CORRECTIONVILLE -- Longtime firefighter Lee Schroeder was scheduled to be Santa at a local Christmas celebration this month. James Smith, a father of four grown children, was known as a man with a big heart.
"In small towns like this, everyone knows each other," said Mike Berning, former Anthon fire chief. "It was just one of those deals where you just don't believe it really is true."
A single-engine Beech 235 piloted by Gaylen Knaack, 70, crashed around 8 p.m. Saturday about 21/2 miles south of Correctionville. The plane reportedly landed short of a private grass airstrip, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Knaack, the longtime owner of a Correctionville auto body shop, survived the crash, but was badly burned, according to a family friend. Knaack, described by the friend as an experienced pilot who had flown for many years, is listed in critical condition in the burn unit at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb.
The fog made it impossible for paramedics to fly Knaack to a hospital for treatment because a helicopter could not reach the crash site.
Knaack was driven to a Sioux City hospital and later transferred to Lincoln, Neb.
Smith, 55, owned a trucking company and had gone to Las Vegas last week to drive a truck to Grand Island, Neb., for repairs, said Lynette Hyndman, Smith's sister-in-law.
Rather than rent a car to drive back to Correctionville, Knaack, who was friends with Smith, suggested that he fly his plane out to pick Smith up, Hyndman said. Schroeder decided to go along for the ride.
There was some fog when the three left Grand Island, but it had lifted when they took off, Hyndman said. The National Weather Service had begun issuing dense fog advisories in northwest Iowa as early as 7:40 p.m. Saturday, but it is not clear whether weather contributed to the crash.
Smith was known around Correctionville as a man with a big heart, Hyndman said. A few years ago, he was featured in a local newspaper when he loaned a car to a couple after theirs broke down while traveling to Colorado for Christmas.
"He never doubted anybody," Hyndman said. "He would give you the shirt off his back."
Berning said he had known Schroeder since the 1970s, and Schroeder worked under him at the fire department
"He was a great person, a church member at the Catholic church, a good father and husband, too," Berning said. "He had good kids. He just did everything that he could for the church and did a lot of work for people around here. Everybody really liked him. He was just one of those kinds of guys."
Berning said Schroeder, 53, of Oto, worked for both the Oto and Anthon fire departments, and was always ready to help those in need.
"He was the Santa Claus here in town. He was one of those kind of guys that every time you asked him to do something, he was just right there to help you."
The three men were deeply involved in the recent development of the new Mercantile Grocery Store in Correctionville organized by CEDCORP, of which Knaack is a member.
According to reports, Smith went to Las Vegas, Nev. to drive a truck back that would be used in servicing the grocery store. It was left off in Grand Island to be converted to suit its purpose and Knaack and Schroeder had flown to Grand Island to bring Smith back home.
In 2009 the Correctionville Grocery Store had a fire, forcing its closure and damaging it beyond repair. Not having a grocery store for many months became a hardship for the area residents of this small Northwest Iowa town and Correctionville and outlying communities then joined hands and raised the necessary funds to bring a new grocery store to town.
The store is scheduled to open after the first of the year.