Investigators can’t say with certainty what caused the 2018 airplane crash that killed a prominent Kewaunee County business-owner and two other northeastern Wisconsin men.
Dairy-owner John Pagel, his son-in-law, Steve Witcpalek of Kewaunee, and pilot Nathan Saari of Bellevue died Feb. 22, 2018, when their twin-engine Cessna slammed into the ground east of Lafayette, Indiana.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the crash, made public last week, blamed “an in-flight-loss of control.” But investigators could not determine if mechanical or human factors caused the loss.
The report marks the end of NTSB’s investigation of the crash, said Terry Williams, a spokesman for the board.
Saari was a 35-year-old professional pilot who was raised in Marquette, Michigan. He had reported the aircraft “a little out of control” shortly after takeoff from Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis, the NTSB report says.
The pilot radioed that he was able to get the plane straight and level. But upon reaching an altitude of 18,300 feet, he reported the aircraft’s trim — it’s ability to remain stable — “is kind of going out on me,” the report says.
Air-traffic controllers then lost contact with the aircraft. An NTSB animation shows the plane flew in a tight circle above rural Rossville, Indiana, then crashed into a muddy field just north of Rossville about 20 minutes after takeoff.
The group was flying to Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport after a brief business trip to central Indiana. The Cessna 411 Conquest II was owned by Ponderosa Aviation, another of Pagel’s businesses.
With his family, the 58-year-old Pagel operated Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, a farm with more than 5,300 cows, 100 employees and 8,500 acres. Pagel also owned The Cannery Public Market in downtown Green Bay, represented Casco on the Kewaunee County Board, and had been a Kewaunee School Board member.
He was well-known in the Kewaunee area for philanthropic efforts that included a “boot camp” where local students could learn about working on a farm, and playing a major role in designing and building the agricultural sciences center at Kewaunee High School, his alma mater.
Witcpalek, who was married to Pagel’s daughter Jamie, also was active in the community. He was instrumental in planning and building an inclusive playground for children with special needs in Kewaunee.