Dale Scheiderer kicked up a cloud of dust as he turned his tractor around in his field yesterday morning and headed west.
It was just after 8:30 a.m., and Scheiderer had been planting soybeans for well over an hour when he glanced up into the sky.
He quickly realized he was about to witness a tragedy.
"I saw this plane, going in circles as it came down, like a screw being turned into the ground," Scheiderer said. "I knew I'd just watched somebody die."
Indeed, he'd seen two men perish. Pilot Evan G. Wood, 68, and passenger Walter L. Buchholz, 73, died when their home-built, single-engine, Van RV-7A airplane came down in Scheiderer's field. Both men were from Punta Gorda, Fla., and were heading home after leaving Bay City, Mich., earlier in the morning.
They'd been in Michigan since Thursday, visiting Wood's two sons and his sister-in-law. They were due back in Punta Gorda by 4:30 p.m. yesterday, said Wood's widow, Sally.
"He always said if anything happened, I should know he was doing what he loved with all his heart," she said. "I have to take comfort in that."
Sally Wood said her husband, Buchholz and two other men spent three years building the plane they all co-owned. She said her husband, a retired electrical contractor, was an experienced pilot. He had once flown more than 7,000 miles over 12 days with a friend in a Cessna single-engine plane. They touched down in every state that forms the border of the continental U.S.
Yesterday, his plane crashed at 8:37 a.m., less than a mile off Weaver Road in rural Marysville. The site was directly behind the home of Scheiderer's 81-year-old mother and just over the hill from where he had been planting soybeans.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the State Highway Patrol are investigating what might have gone wrong. The weather was clear, wind was low and visibility was high. But a wheel cover for the plane later was found at the Union County Airport, where the pilot had made a pass just before the crash, and authorities think the plane might have clipped a 2-foot-high light pole in the runway area, Patrol Lt. Rick Zwayer said.
Minutes before the crash, Wood radioed the airport, which is about a mile from the crash scene, and said he was coming in for a landing, airport manager Adam Gibson said.
"We saw him come in; he got 10 or 15 feet above the runway and pulled away," Gibson said. "We assume he was going to make a pass and come back and try again."
Instead, authorities got Scheiderer's 911 call.
The safety record of amateur-built airplanes rivals that of factory-built craft, said Dick Knapinski, spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association of Oshkosh, Wis.
FAA figures, however, show that the fatal accident rate of amateur-built airplanes was more than twice that of the general aviation fleet in 2004-05.
Home-built planes were involved in 73 fatal accidents (0.28 percent of the fleet) compared with 250 fatal accidents for general aviation craft (0.11 percent of the fleet).
Knapinski called the difference minor and noted that the number of fatalities involving amateur-built planes continues to decline, falling to 49 in 2005-06.
Airplanes built from kits are popular because they can be assembled for about a quarter of the cost of a factory-built Cessna, Beechcraft or Piper, he said. A plane like the one that crashed yesterday, he said, can be assembled in 1,000 to 1,500 hours for $50,000 to $60,000.
The RV-7 series, sold by Van's Aircraft Inc. of Aurora, Ore., is among the most popular kit-build planes in the U.S., with about 3,000 in service, he said.
All home-built aircraft must be inspected and certified as airworthy by the FAA and are not allowed to carry passengers or fly over populated areas during up to 40 hours of testing.
The accident was the fourth fatal aviation accident in central Ohio in the past year.
Experienced aviator Russell Sheets, 45, of Delaware, was killed March 8 when his twin-engine plane crashed in Logan County northwest of West Mansfield.
Eric Balcom, 61, of Knox County, and Walden Damschroder, 67, of Ottawa County, died Dec. 28 when their single-engine airplane crashed in a stand of trees in Morrow County.
Also in Logan County, Paul Walborn, 51, of West Liberty, was killed May 28 when his ultralight aircraft plummeted into a horse pasture.