A twin-engine plane carrying members of the Iowa State University women’s cross-country team crashed and burst into flames in a residential neighborhood Monday night, killing all seven people aboard and knocking out power to about 1,600 homes.
The Aero Commander, one of three planes carrying members of the men’s and women’s teams and coaching staff from Milwaukee to Ames, crashed in a freezing drizzle shortly before 6 p.m., and missed a house by 70 feet, according to Sgt. Bill Mullins.
Seven bodies were found in the charred wreckage, which lay crumpled at the base of an oak tree on a sloping street, Mullins said.
Polk County Medical Examiner R.C. Wooters released the names of six of the seven victims early Tuesday. The name of the seventh victim, a male, was withheld pending notification of relatives.
The victims were identified as Burton H. Watkins of Ames, director of the Iowa State University Flight Service and pilot of the airplane; Ron Renko of Ames, head coach of the ISU women’s track and cross country teams; Stephanie Streit of Hawarden, student trainer for the ISU Athletic Department; and cross-country team members Susan Baxter of Brentwood, Essex, England; Julie Rose of Ashford, Kent, England, and Sheryl Maahs of Spirit Lake.
Bad weather forced the three planes to be diverted from Ames, site of the university, to Des Moines, and the other two planes landed safely, Mullins said. There were 21 members of the men’s and women’s teams and coaching staff aboard the three planes, which were owned by the school.
The women’s team had finished second behind Wisconsin in the NCAA championship meet hosted by Marquette University and held at Dretzka Park in Milwaukee.
The Des Moines Municipal Airport control tower reported that the pilot of the plane reported “severe vibrations and that he was climbing to 3,000 feet,” said H.A. Westbrook, Ames airport manager. “At 5:25 p.m., the (Des Moines) tower reported it went down off their radar screen,” he said.
It was unusual for a pilot to report he was climbing again because the plane was so close to the Des Moines airport, about three miles away, Westbrook said.
“This is only speculation, but he might have missed his approach and began climbing to come around again,” Westbrook said. “He should have been at 2,600 feet, but he could’ve been lower because of ice buildup (on the wings.)”