Investigation into Graves’s plane crash underway
By David Little West Central Tribune and Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Jenna Duncan Denton Record-Chronicle WILLMAR -- Dion Warne was probably one of the last people to see Domino's Pizza franchise owner Bill Graves alive Wednesday afternoon before Gra...
By David Little
West Central Tribune and
Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Jenna Duncan
WILLMAR - Dion Warne was probably one of the last people to see Domino’s Pizza franchise owner Bill Graves alive Wednesday afternoon before Graves died in a plane crash in Texas about two and half hours later.
Federal officials are investigating Wednesday night’s crash that claimed the life of the pilot, Graves, 52, of Flower Mound, Texas, and formerly of Willmar.
Graves flew into Willmar Municipal Airport at about 10 a.m. Monday in a twin-engine Cessna 441 turboprop, said Eric Rudningen, airport on-site supervisor and owner of Eric’s Aviation Services of Willmar.
Warne, senior vice president at Home State Bank in Willmar, said he talked to Graves at the bank Wednesday afternoon while Graves was in Willmar on business. Warne and Graves were partners in the development group Willmar 10 Investors. Warne said Graves had been planning to attend a Willmar 10 meeting Thursday but decided to fly home instead.
Warne said he and Graves left the bank at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Rudningen said Graves took off from Willmar Airport at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Graves was alone in the plane when it crashed at about 9:10 p.m. Wednesday into a patch of open space between a mobile home community and small manufacturing district in southern Argyle.
Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the plane was approaching Denton Enterprise Airport and crashed about 6 miles south of the airport. The plane itself was nearly intact at the crash site Thursday morning, except for a hole on the pilot’s side of the plane. Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt.Lonny Haschel, who helped secure the crash site overnight, said the plane’s fuel tanks had ruptured.
But the fuel did not ignite.
Several witnesses called 911 to report the sound of a plane in distress. But it took some time for first responders to locate the crash site in the dark.
A Denton airport fire truck equipped to fight aviation fuel fires responded to the crash once the plane was located.
Lunsford said Federal Aviation Administration officials responded to the crash site between Stonecrest Road and U.S. Highway 377 before turning the investigation over to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Keith Holloway, NTSB public information officer, said the agency was waiting to hear from investigators who were examining the aircraft and documenting the scene Thursday.
He said the agency would not speculate on a cause. Investigators will look at the plane’s maintenance records; the pilot’s flight history and flight logs, including what he was doing at the time of the crash; the pilot’s medical history, including whether something happened at the time of the crash; and weather conditions.
“Even if it was a clear and sunny day, we will still look at it,” Holloway said, adding that an incoming front can change conditions for a pilot.
According to the NTSB website, the agency can take from 12 to 18 months to release its findings.
At sunset, though overcast, visibility at Denton airport was 10 miles. The weather changed Wednesday evening as a cold front arrived. At 8:53 p.m., the airport reported visibility had dropped to 2 miles. Light rain, fog and mist were reported, with north wind at 21 mph and gusts reported at 30 mph.
Graves was issued his commercial pilot license in December 2013 and was authorized to operate single- and multi-engine airplanes. He was also authorized to fly with instruments. He was required to wear corrective lenses while flying.
The plane, which can seat eight to nine people, was registered on January 13 to Kodie Acquisitions LLC, of Concord, Mass.