An aviation student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha was flying the small plane that crashed Saturday evening south of Norfolk, killing himself and his female passenger.
Madison County Sheriff Vern Hjorth said 26-year-old Dale Butler of Omaha and 23-year-old Amy Brobst of Fort Collins, Colo., both died when the plane crashed Saturday evening shortly after it took off from Norfolk on its way back to Omaha.
A pilot who witnessed the plane take off from the Norfolk Regional Airport said he immediately knew something was wrong.
“It was very erratic coming low over the hangars and wobbling almost in a stall position and we were afraid he would crash into the hangars here,” said Jerry Kohles.
According to information from the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane was a 1967 Piper PA-28 Cherokee registered to Pro-Flite, Inc., of Millard, a flight school. Company officials declined to comment on the crash because they don't yet know what happened.
A preliminary report on the cause of the accident may be available within 10 days, federal safety officials said.
Butler was a college student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Aviation Institute and licensed to fly, according to university officials.
Scott Vlasek, director of the UNO Aviation Institute, released a statement Sunday afternoon about the accident:
"On Sunday morning, I was notified that Dale Butler, one of our students and a licensed pilot, was killed in an aviation-related accident that occurred on Saturday evening near Norfolk. I want to offer my heartfelt sympathies to the Butler family. Our faculty and students are heartbroken over the loss of Dale."
Butler was a member of the UNO flight team, The Flying Mavs.
Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said agency representatives arrived in Norfolk on Sunday evening to begin their investigation into the cause of the crash, which occurred about two miles southeast of Norfolk.
Weiss said witnesses told board officials that the plane struck a power line about a half-mile from the impact site.
Chuck Hill of Omaha said Butler was planning his wedding later this summer.
“It was shocking, you know? It was very pretty hard to deal with because, I mean, I just talked to him a couple of nights ago about tux measurements for the wedding in August. He was always the guy you go to when you had a bad day and, honestly, he was one of my closest friends. I really just don't know what I'm going to do at this point. It's going to be a lot harder now."
Madison County law enforcement and emergency management officials were on the accident scene as of Saturday evening, securing it until federal safety officials could arrive to begin their investigation.
It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that the identities of the two victims were released after relatives had been notified.