STANTON COUNTY, Neb. - Authorities announced Monday that a missing plane carrying two men that left from Chamberlain, S.D. on Sunday afternoon en route to Millard Airport in Omaha, Neb. crashed in northwest Nebraska 11 miles east of Norfolk, Neb. in Stantion County. There were no survivors.
The single-engine Piper Comanche piloted by Steven R. Schmillen, 63, of Elkhorn, Neb., a Marcus native, is believed to have crashed some time between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday. Schmillen and a passenger, David E. Radke, 44, of Charlotte, N.C, an Aurelia native, were returning from a hunting trip.
The wreckage was found at approximately 3:55 p.m. on Monday afternoon. The South Dakota Civil Air Patrol, Nebraska Civil Air Patrol officials and air and ground crews from Nebraska began searching for the plane and its two passengers soon after it did not arrive at the Millard Airport as scheduled on Sunday evening. The search area covered about 320 miles.
A search plane from Nebraska located the crash site east of Norfolk about 3:30 p.m. Monday, and circled until a ground crew arrived and hiked to the site.
"The word I got was that the plane was just in two pieces, which means it didn't constitute a violent crash," Col. Bob Todd of the Nebraska Civil Air Patrol said. Nebraska officials said weather may have been a factor in the crash. "The weather wasn't real nasty, but it wasn't real nice, either. This time of year, weather can catch a small plane pretty quickly."
Air Force Rescue Coordination Center officials never received a signal from the plane's electronic locator transmitter, which automatically triggers in the event of a crash or a hard landing.
The pilot of the plane did not file a flight plan, which made the search difficult Monday, according to South Dakota Civil Air Patrol spokesman Capt. Todd Epp.
"Under FAA regulations, it's not mandatory, but it is advised with visual flight rules," Epp said. "We're not sure if they were flying with instruments."
Because the trip was to be made under visual flight rules, a flight plan was not required to be filed. The pilot indicated before takeoff that he intended to follow Interstate 90 east to Sioux Falls, S.D., before turning south toward Omaha.
Two aircraft from Sioux Falls as well as ground teams from squadrons in Sioux Falls, Brookings, Pierre and Rapid City assisted in the search.
Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said both Schmillen and Radke were ejected from the plane and the wreckage covered an area more than 300 yards.
The investigation into the crash continues.