Cattlemen, crop sprayer die in plane crash

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Farm Forum

HIGHMORE — Three South Dakota cattlemen and a former star Gettysburg athlete were killed in a plane crash late Sunday night near Highmore.

The plane encountered heavy fog and crashed into a wind turbine, officials said Monday.

Killed were:

• Brent Beitelspacher, who would have turned 38 on Monday, of Bowdle.

• Logan Rau, 25, of Java.

• Donald “DJ” Fischer, 30, of Gettysburg.

• Nick Reimann, 33, of Ree Heights.

Beitelspacher, Rau and Reimann were all well-known in the cattle industry. Fischer, presumed to be the pilot of the plane, played college football at South Dakota State University in the mid-2000s.

The plane was en route to Gettysburg from Hereford, Texas, according to Federal Aviation Administration official Elizabeth Cory. She said the National Transportation Safety Board is heading the crash investigation and the FAA is assisting.

She confirmed the tail number of the plane as N8700E. According to FAA records, a plane with that tail number, a Piper PA-32R-300, was registered to Fischer. It is a fixed-wing, single-engine plane manufactured in 1976.

The wreckage was found Monday at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center, a site about 10 miles south of Highmore off of state Highway 47, and a few miles west on 207th Street. The wind center has 27 turbines that are about 213 feet tall, plus the length of the blade.

‘Mutual respect’

Mike Mimms, a veterinarian in Hereford, said Beitelspacher, Rau and Reimann were in Hereford, Texas, for a cow and genetic club calf sale Saturday. Mimms said Beitelspacher had one cow consigned in the sale and Rau had two.

Mimms, who oversaw the sale, said that he has been buying cattle from the Beitelspachers for the past 15 years, but that he met Brent Beitelspacher in person for the first time for about a minute before Saturday’s sale.

All three men had excellent reputations in the cattle industry, Mimms said. He said he and Beitelspacher have done millions of dollars in business over the phone without any concerns or problems.

“It was always honest dealings and fair dealings and mutual respect,” Mimms said.

“I can’t get their families out of my mind, thinking about them,” he said of the victims.

Mimms said Beitelspacher traveled to Hereford so the two could meet after doing business together for so long, not to watch his one cow sell. Hereford is southwest of Amarillo in north Texas.

“They came down here to support this sale, not for any reason of their own,” Mimms said.

Reimann’s Ree Heights ranch has raised grand champion steers for many prestigious cattle shows across the country.

“Nick Reimann was probably the No. 1 breeder in the show industry,” Mimms said.

Folks in Texas who did business with the South Dakotans had nothing but good things to say about the victims, Mimms said. And that’s not always the case in the cattle industry, he said.

“They were good guys. Well-respected,” Mimms said.

Weather conditions

Mimms said winds in northern Texas reached 60 mph Sunday, so the South Dakotans waited out the worst of the conditions and took off about 4:45 p.m. He said some folks who were at the sale were worried about the plane taking off in the gusty, dusty conditions, but didn’t know about the bad weather in South Dakota.

Mimms said he heard about the crash early Monday morning and was told the plane encountered heavy fog as it approached home.

Dave Hintz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, said that first responders in the Highmore area reported foggy conditions early Monday morning. There were likely low clouds in the area much like those in Aberdeen on Monday.

Skyla Ratzlaff, the nearest homeowner to the crash site, said she heard lots of wind and rain between 9 and 10 p.m. Sunday.

‘Tough deal’

Kathy Zilverberg, an emergency medical technician in Highmore, said she didn’t receive the original call to respond to the accident scene, but received an alert at 2:30 a.m. asking for any available emergency responders to aid in the search for a missing plane.

Zilverberg said it’s tough getting such a call.

“It’s something that’s so hard to explain,” she said, adding that emergency responders often wonder who the victim might be and whether it’s somebody they’ll know.

“You hope it’s not someone you know,” she said.

In this case, Zilverberg knew those involved.

“It’s a pretty big impact,” she said. “They’re very well-known people.”

“It’s a tough deal for everyone in the community,” said Doug Kroeplin, owner of Kroeplin Ag Services at the Highmore airport north of town.

Kroeplin said emergency responders are all volunteers and the scope of this accident isn’t something the volunteer team is accustomed to or trained for.

“We’re a small rural community,” Kroeplin said. “We’re not used to tragedies.”

Harlan Reed, an employee at the Highmore Farmers Elevator, said the accident shocked everybody.

“It seems like when something happens in Hyde County it’s a bad deal,” Reed said.

Logan Rau

A farmer and rancher, Rau lived on a farm northeast of Java. He briefly attended Northern State University and South Dakota State University before earning an emergency medical technician degree from Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown. He was taking paramedics classes when he returned to help at the family farm.

Jordan Weisbeck, who attended high school with Rau in Eureka, described his friend as a “great guy, fun to be around.”

“He was always there for you for anything you needed,” Weisbeck said, recalling Rau playing football. “He wasn’t always the biggest guy, but he never feared anyone. He was fearless and tough.”

Rau’s sister, TiAnn Poloncic, said Rau treated everyone the same.

“He was tough on the outside, but so sweet,” she said Tuesday. “He loved so hard.”

Rau married his wife, Natalie, in July 2013.

Poloncic described her brother as calm, level-headed and brave.

“He loved his three dogs like his children,” she said. “He had three nieces he loved and doted on and an honorary niece as well.”

She said she will miss his smile.

“He could make absolutely anyone laugh about anything,” said Poloncic, who described the Rau and Beitelspacher families as extremely close.

“Their son is my parent’s son and vice versa,” she said.

Brent Beitelspacher

Poloncic said Beitelspacher was the type of person who would help wherever it was needed — whether someone needed feed or fishing bait. He was also the type of person who did everything “a mile a minute.”

“He was always going 90 in a 40, but would stop on a dime to help you,” Logan Rau’s father, Todd Rau, said in an email.

Beitelspacher was the oldest of three brothers. His youngest brother, Brandon, said his brother loved hunting and fishing and described him as someone who was, “very outgoing and energetic.”

Beitelspacher graduated from Bowdle High School in 1994 and South Dakota State University in 1998. He owned the Gettysburg Sale Barn for 10 years. After selling the sale barn in 2009, Beitelspacher spent two years on the family farm before becoming a nutrition consultant for Northern Plains Cooperative. He leaves behind his wife, Nicole, and two children.

He would have turned 38 on Monday.

Nick Reimann

A college friend recalls Reimann as a selfless man.

Savanah Allen, of Palmer, Texas, met Reimann while attending Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, Okla. Allen now operates Ranchology, a design firm that promotes the Western lifestyle.

“He was so selfless,” Allen said. “He would help anyone that needed help. He loved kids; he loved cattle. He was amazing at what he did.”

Allen said Reimann was born and raised in Ree Heights, which is about 13 miles east of Highmore.

“Nick always knew he was going back home,” Allen said. She heard of the accident at 7:15 a.m. Monday.

According to his obituary from Rembold Funeral Home in St. Lawrence, Reimann leaves behind his wife, Kyrstin, two children and an extensive family. He graduated from Miller High School.

Allen said it’s “gut wrenching” just thinking about how close the group was to being home.

“I wish they would have waited until morning,” Allen said.

Mike Mimms, a veterinarian who runs the annual sale in Hereford, said Reimann had been down for the show multiple times and is known across the industry as a master in livestock genetics.

“He was honestly the No. 1 guy in this business and one that people trusted,” Mimms told the AP. “He kind of a was a trendsetter that people wanted to know what he was doing and they tended to follow suit.”

DJ Fischer

Fischer, a crop sprayer for Air Kraft Spraying Inc., followed in his father’s footsteps into the aerial business and was extremely involved in his community, state Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, told the AP.

Brown, a longtime family friend, said Fischer had just gotten married in March and was a volunteer emergency medical technician who was often out on calls.

“This is one of those things that’s going to hit the community pretty hard, because I would venture to say there probably are not many people here who DJ didn’t touch their life in some way,” Brown told the AP.

Fischer attended South Dakota State University and played defensive tackle for the school’s football team from 2002 to 2005.

John Stiegelmeier, SDSU’s head football coach, described Fischer as a gifted athlete who was a great friend to his teammates.

“I’m a small-school guy and he was the same — phenomenal work ethic, phenomenal loyalty to the coaching staff and his teammates,” Stiegelmeier told the AP. “Whatever you asked DJ to do, he did it, with a smile on his face, too. He didn’t hesitate.”