SHEBOYGAN FALLS -- The owners of "Fly-By Acres LLC" on Monday, July 23 released a statement after a plane crash Friday, July 20 that took the life of the pilot of the plane and severely injured two of their employees. The crash destroyed one building at the farm and damaged three others. Additionally, animals were killed and others were injured.
Martin Tibbitts, 50, of Grosse Point, Michigan had just taken off from the Sheboygan County Memorial Airport when he went down and hit a "Fly-By Acres LLC" farm building on Friday.
It happened just hours into the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin's 11th annual Air Clinic. Tibbitts encountered trouble in the air soon after takeoff, and his vintage, single-engine, military-style plane went down just a half-mile from the airport. He was killed on impact.
Two "Fly-By Acres LLC" workers who were feeding cattle or calves in the building where the plane came through were hit and hurt.
Several nearby buildings caught fire, producing a black cloud of smoke visible for miles. FOX6's Aaron Maybin, who was on scene Monday, said he could still smell the fuel after the plane clipped a cornfield, barreled through a barn and came to a fiery halt near some farming equipment.
"(Sunday) was the first time we could come to this part without being escorted by police," said Rachel Kroeplien.
Rachel Kroeplien's family owns the farm where she grew up. She said surveying the twisted metal has been surreal.
"From one shock to the next to the next. When you look at the destruction, we have no idea how (the injured employees) survived," said Kroeplien.
Bob Kroeplien, the Sheboygan Falls fire chief, responded to the tragedy.
"The fuel was spilled all over. It's where I grew up. I was born and raised on that farm," said Bob Kroeplien.
Below is the complete statement issued Monday by "Fly-By Acres LLC:"
"First, we would like to ask everyone to keep sending their thoughts and prayers to our employees and their families as they recover. The female employee was released from the hospital and is recovering at home. The male employee is still in critical condition at this time.
Secondly, our family would like to send condolences to the Tibbitts family for the loss of their loved one.
On Friday, at 16:04, a plane crashed into our farm. It destroyed one of our calf barns and severely damaged three other buildings on the property. At the time of the crash, we had two employees working in the calf barn. They were both severely injured. During the crash, the jet fuselages were broken off the plane. Two landed near the employees and were leaking fuel, but did not ignite, and the others were near the plane wreckage. We did lose multiple calves in the incident. Many neighbors and surrounding farmers gathered the calves and trailered them to a neighboring farm. Some of these animals are injured and suffer from inhalation of jet fumes. They are being monitored by our farm's vet clinic. We are grateful to all our family, friends and neighbors who came to help. We would also like to thank the Sheboygan County Sheriff's Department, the Town of Falls Fire Department and any other emergency personnel that were on the scene.
Following the crash, the FAA and NTSB were on the property to investigate the crash. A large part of our farm was roped off as part of the crash scene, so we were unable to fully assess the damage at that time. On Sunday, we were finally able to assess the damage and start cleaning up areas around the plane as the recovery team worked to remove the plane from the property. Currently, we are unsure of the cost to repair the buildings and other damage done by this tragedy. At this time, the DNR is working with Clean Sweep of Wisconsin to check the crash scene for jet fuel contamination.
I would like to thank my Uncle Bob who is the Town of Falls fire chief. He did a great job coordinating the emergency personnel during the incident and being a great spokesperson for our family after.
This is a devastating incident, however, our family is very grateful because this could have destroyed the whole farm. The plane was 40 feet away from our milking parlor that had other employees in it. The milking parlor is also connected to the remaining barns that house the rest of our animals.
We are very appreciative of everyone's assistance as we move forward with the clean-up from this devastating accident. Our biggest concern at this time is the recovery of our two injured employees, so please keep them in your thoughts and prayers."
FOX6 News got a look at the devastation on Monday. Below are some photos showing the damage at "Fly-By Acres LLC."
"We're still trying to work through our everyday chores on top of having to deal with all of this as well," said Rachel Kroeplien.
"Fly-By Acres LLC" is owned and operated by the Kroeplien family. It is a 500-cow dairy farm in Sheboygan Falls, where the cows are milked three times a day, and approximately 1,000 acres of land is worked. Corn, soybeans, alfalfa and winter wheat is grown at the farm. The family says if the plane would've hit the main barn, the farm would be devastated.
The NTSB is investigating the plane crash, with help from the FAA. A preliminary report from the NTSB could be released this week.
Meanwhile, Martin Tibbitts' brother, JC, shared the following statement shortly after the crash:
“Our family is devastated by the loss of Marty. To say he was passionate about all things in his life - family, business and aviation would be to immensely understate the case. He died pursuing one of his passions. This past Tuesday before leaving for Wisconsin he showed us aerial photos of the formation he would be flying at Oshkosh. He was a highly skilled pilot who enjoyed the history and camaraderie that came with flying vintage military planes. Beyond his family, friends and business associates, many will miss this unique and special person.”