By GRETCHEN EHLKE, Associated Press
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A teenage pilot was killed and his passenger was seriously injured when a single-engine plane crashed into a river near a small northwestern Wisconsin community still recovering from last week’s deadly and destructive tornado.
Owen Knutson, 17, died at the scene of the crash Wednesday evening, according to Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.
Passenger Hunter Gillett, 18, just days away from graduating from high school, was injured when the Piper aircraft crashed into the Red Cedar River about 3 miles (5 kilometers) south of Chetek, sheriff’s officials said.
Fitzgerald said it was difficult for first responders to locate and reach the crash site.
“It’s a rural setting. There’s no easy access to get to it. We walked a long way to get to the scene,” he said. The boys were found in the river, in waist-deep water, according to the sheriff.
Knutson had taken off from a private airstrip on his family’s property near Chetek when several people called the sheriff’s department after seeing the plane go down. The teen, a junior at Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gillett was taken to a hospital in Eau Claire then airlifted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was in serious condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Gillett is a standout student-athlete at nearby Cameron High School where he was to graduate on Friday, said school district administrator Joe Leschisin.
“He’s a hard-working, respectful young man,” Leschisin said of Gillett, who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
The plane crash happened about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from the site of a tornado touchdown May 16 that killed one man, injured about two dozen others and caused about $10 million in damage.
“It’s an extremely tough time for everyone,” Fitzgerald said. “We need your thoughts and prayers.”