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Josh Verges, Argus Leader Media, Published December 09 2011

Police ID four killed in plane crash near Sioux Falls airport

SIOUX FALLS _ A charter pilot and three passengers on an educational robotics league trip were killed Friday afternoon when a plane headed for Rapid City crashed soon after leaving Sioux Falls Regional Airport.

The pilot tried returning to the airport after encountering some problem with the twin-engine Cessna 421C, but the plane spiraled to the ground in an open field one-quarter mile from Joe Foss Field about 2:24 p.m.

The impact left only the tail of the aircraft intact.

“We’re told there were four people aboard, and all were fatalities,” Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

Sioux Falls police said flight documentation showed four men were aboard the flight. They have not been positively identified, but they are presumed dead and family members were notified. They are:

Brian Blake, a 54-year-old charter pilot from Sioux Falls; Kevin W. Anderson, 50, of Sioux Falls; Daniel Swets, 47, of Sioux Falls; and Joshua Lambrecht, 30, of Brandon.

The men were flying to a FIRST Lego League practice competition in Rapid City.

Swets, an associate professor of computer science at Augustana College, was president of the South Dakota Robotics Association. A 2008 Argus Leader story identified Anderson, a 1987 Augie alum and systems analyst for the Sioux Falls School District, as a coach with the FIRST Lego League.

“We are deeply saddened at the tragic loss of Dan, our dear friend and colleague; Kevin, an Augustana alumnus; and the other passengers on board,” Augustana President Rob Oliver said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Robyn, Dan’s wife; his children, Joe, Kira, Megan and Ben; and to the families of the other passengers.”

Lambrecht was head referee for the robotics league, according to a recent letter to coaches.

Blake was pilot and manager for Quest Aviation, which operated a charter service at Sioux Falls Regional Airport. FAA records show he was certified as a pilot and flight instructor for both single and multi-engine planes.

The cause of the crash is not known.

John Dahlin was driving east on Benson Road near Westport Avenue when he saw the plane flying low and thought to himself, “That’s gotta pull up.” It didn’t.

“It was spinning completely in a nosedive,” he said. “Hit the ground. I saw the fuel spray everywhere. About a split-second later, it all lit up into flames.”

Dahlin said the plane looked completely intact before it hit the ground and he didn’t notice any smoke coming from the aircraft.

He said he got within 10 feet of the shattered aircraft and could see the pilot inside and blood on the windshield.

“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ll never forget this for as long as I live.”

Brian Tordsen, president of Maverick Air Center, located on the west side of the airport, said two employees were standing on the ramp outside and saw the plane go down soon after takeoff.

Tordsen said the plane crashed near the Sanford football complex, on the other side of the river and diversion channel and outside of airport property.

Jack Browning, general manager for Landmark Aviation near the airport, said the plane had been stored in a Landmark hangar and that the plane’s owner had been a client for a while.

Ben Arndt of Sioux Falls landed at Joe Foss Field around 2:30 p.m. and saw a large cloud of smoke “just after we touched down. We just watched it, and nobody knew what was going on.”

S&S Aviation of Ipswich owned the plane and leased it to Quest Aviation. S&S said in a statement that they were “deeply saddened to learn of the lives that were lost.”

FAA records show the plane was manufactured in 1975. The aircraft’s certificate of registration was renewed April 9, 2009, and was set to expire April 30, 2014.

The Cessna was on its 27th regional flight this month, according to the tracking service FlightAware.

Molinaro said the FAA will send a team of investigators to the crash scene, but the National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead investigative agency.

Argus Leader reporters Beth Wischmeyer, Dalton Walker, Sarah Reinecke, Jonathan Ellis and Megan Luther contributed to this report.