Twelve people were onboard midday Saturday when the plane went down in rural Brule County en route from Chamberlain to Idaho, Brule County State’s Attorney Theresa Maule Rossow said. Survivors were taken to hospitals around Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for treatment.
The passengers, part of a hunting party, ranged in age from 7 to 81, and the three survivors are men ages 17, 27 and 28, Brule County Emergency Manager Katheryn Benton said. The most critically injured person had several bone fractures, she said. Information on the others’ conditions was not immediately available.
Authorities have not identified the victims, but people in Idaho Falls mourned a family that one local business owner called “pillars in the community” in a post online. Among the dead are executives Kirk and Jim Hansen, according to a statement from Kyäni Vision Group, a team within a wellness product company the men founded. The Hansens’ father, Jim Hansen Sr., and other relatives also died, friends said.
The Hansens held leadership positions in other companies, including a family petroleum business, according to Kyäni’s website. Acquaintances said they were also active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Their influence in the community and church will be heavily felt,” Kevin Call, a friend of the family, told East Idaho News. “They weren’t showy but quiet, heavy contributors.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash of the Pilatus PC-12. But Benton said she believes a “combination of several weather factors” contributed to the tragedy.
People across South Dakota had been advised against travel amid stormy conditions that intensified after Thanksgiving, she said, and no landings were allowed at Chamberlain’s airport when the plane went down. An interstate highway also was closed from the town to Wyoming.
Chamberlain and other parts of South Dakota were under a winter storm warning until noon Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls. The Weather Service cautioned of ice, snow and winds as fast as 40 mph as bad weather across the country was predicted to hit millions of travelers returning home after Thanksgiving.
Conditions in Chamberlain could hinder travel, and “patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility,” the Weather Service advisory stated.
The conditions also delayed efforts to inspect the scene, authorities said, though all bodies were removed from the wreckage by Saturday afternoon. Investigators arrived Sunday morning and remain on scene, Benton said.
The Federal Aviation Administration also has been notified, according to Maule Rossow.
“The men and women of law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals should be commended in their heroic actions to rescue the victims in extreme weather conditions,” Maule Rossow said in a statement.
All people on the downed plane were from Idaho, she said. A final report analyzing the cause of the crash could take one to two years, but a preliminary report will be out within two weeks, according to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.
This article was written by Hannah Knowles, a reporter for The Washington Post.