Fatal plane crash
SAUK RAPIDS, Minnesota – The man who survived a plane striking the home he was in Friday night was counting his blessings Saturday.
"Someone upstairs was definitely looking out for me for sure. It was crazy," Kole Heckendorf said. "We're starting from scratch right now. All I had this morning was a pair of socks, a shirt and my underwear. But besides losing Storm (Heckendorf's dog) we can replace everything else. You can't buy back life."
Heckendorf is a former North Dakota State University standout who went on to see time with four NFL teams. He joined the football coaching staff at St. John's University on a stipend basis last fall.
At about 8:26 p.m. Friday a small plane crashed into a house at 731 Garden Place in Sauk Rapids, according to the Sauk Rapids Police Department. Two people on board the plane died, according to police.
The home belongs to Jeff Hille, a teacher and baseball coach at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School. Heckendorf and his wife, Kristen, had been staying with Hille, Heckendorf's brother-in-law, since last fall but were due to move into a new house next week. He and Jeff had just returned from a baseball and golf outing when Jeff and some friends left to go out for the evening.
"I still had a couple of things to finish up at the house so I stayed behind," Heckendorf said.
Heckendorf said he was in an upstairs bedroom at the time of the crash.
"I was sitting in my room and all of a sudden I heard this blast," Heckendorf said. "It shook the house and knocked me onto the bed. We're supposed to move into a new house next week, so I've been working on a lot of projects. I had some paint thinner in the garage and my first thought was 'What did I do?' Then I looked out in the hallway and saw it was already on fire. I just took a blanket off the bed, knocked out the window and jumped out."
Heckendorf said he was unaware a plane had hit the house until neighbors who witnessed the crash informed him of it.
"The neighbors saw the whole thing and they said they didn't think anyone could have made it out," Heckendorf said. "Then all of a sudden, I came walking around the corner. We've gone back over there since and talked to them. And they said from what they saw, I was probably in the safest part of the house when it happened. So I was really lucky that way."
Hille said Friday that he was "elated" that his brother-in-law survived the ordeal. He and the Heckendorfs are currently staying with family.
Multiple people reported seeing two planes, one of them a single-engine aircraft, flying in proximity around the time of the crash.
Hille's neighbor Tammy Lewandowski said she saw the plane strike Hille's house.
"(A larger plane) flew over, we were all watching the big plane it was really low and then from that direction we saw a white plane (come in) extremely low ... I know I saw something eject, like a parachute or person and then all of a sudden the plane started wobbling, it was coming at us and then we ran," Lewandowski said. "We turned around and saw it explode."
Sauk Rapids residents Trish and Jeremy Paggen described a similar scene.
"I was on the phone and a big airplane was going really low, you could feel it ... I said, 'Oh my gosh, it's flying really low' and right behind came a smaller aircraft," Trish Paggen said. "We don't know what happened, but it flew and it turned and it nosedived straight down. It wasn't that loud of an explosion, but you knew right away what it was."
"We drove down and (the house) was already on fire immediately," Jeremy Paggen added.
Allegiant Air confirmed Saturday that one of the airline's planes was in the vicinity of a crash Friday.
"We are aware (of the accident)," Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler said. "Right now we can't speculate about what happened. We're working with the (National Transportation Safety Board) and certainly our thoughts are with the pilot and the passenger of the plane."
According to the website Flightaware.com, Allegiant Air Flight 108, flying from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, landed at St. Cloud Regional Airport at 8:29 p.m. Wheeler confirmed the information.
St. Cloud Regional Airport Director Bill Towle said residents' descriptions could indicate that the smaller plane may have gotten caught in the larger plane's wake turbulence, which is the turbulence that forms behind an aircraft as it passes through the air.
"It's more likely that you'll get into the path of wake turbulence on take-off and landing ... it's less likely (in the open) because there's so much space," Towle said. "Wake turbulence is a very real issue. If a bigger aircraft is in front of you during take off or landing they'll typically warn you."
The identities of the two people who died in the crash have not been released. Police said they were sightseeing at the time of the crash.