Vanguard pilot, passenger killed in Sunday crash Eslick flew in Vermillionâ�?�?s Sesquicentennial air show By David Lias
Plain Talk Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a fatal plane crash that killed pilot Todd Eslick, 28 Sioux Falls, and his passenger, Tristan Schmitz, 12, of Brookings. Eslick was a member of the Vanguard Squadron that thrilled local citizens at Vermillion's Sesquicentennial Air Show Aug. 9. He and Schmitz died when the RV-8 home-built airplane Eslick was piloting crashed at about 2:15 p.m. Sunday into a soybean field about three miles west of Tea. The airplane — a two-seater — was larger than the planes that were flown in aerobatic formations during Vermillion's event, and didn't take part in the Aug. 9 air show. It did, however, land at Howard Davidson Field with the smaller planes of the squadron, and remained parked on a taxi-way at the Vermillion airport so spectators could get a close look at the plane. Gary Kuhns was the lead pilot at Vermillion's air show. "The FAA is still investigating the whole thing," he told the Plain Talk Tuesday. "As far as information about the crash, that will come when the investigation is completed." According to a news report written by Steve Young of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, officials with the Federal Aviation Administration finished their on-site investigation Monday morning. The blue-and-yellow ethanol-fueled aircraft was hauled on a flatbed to a hangar at the Marv Skie-Lincoln County Airport, where the investigation will continue, said Mark Schroeder, manager of the Tea airport. "They'll tear the engine apart to see if there was any kind of engine problem," Schroeder said. "They're talking to witnesses to get an idea of what they saw. It could take six to 18 months before they're done." Schroeder said he understood that the two-seat plane had flown Friday to Fargo and had been in the skies over Tea on Saturday as well — both days with no problems. Harold Timmerman, emergency management director for Lincoln County, said the plane took off from the Tea airport, though he doesn't know how long it was in the air before it crashed. Schroeder said the RV-8 is a professionally designed plane that is well constructed and well maintained. The FAA requires annual inspections of the engine, flight controls and other mechanics of the plane, Schroeder said "The FAA can ask to see the log books at any time," he said. "Your pilot log books, your engine log books … they're all maintained and inspected. The aircraft inspectors have to sign off on everything before they can go up." Schroeder said airplanes flying out of airports such as his don't have to file a flight plan. Eslick, divorced with a 3-year-old daughter named Avery, was well respected within the local flying community, said Jack Browning, general manager for Landmark Aviation in Sioux Falls. Eslick was a charter pilot who worked for Business Aviation and stayed on for a time with the company when it became Encore Aviation and, later, Landmark. Eventually, Eslick started flying with another business in Sioux Falls, Browning said, and they remained friends. "He was a great young guy," Browning said. "From what everyone says, he was a great pilot. We've lost him. It's very alarming to all of us here." Schroeder at the Tea airport said he knew of Eslick, and what he knew "was that he was one of the very good pilots, one of the very good aerobatic pilots." Kuhns confirmed that as well, telling the Argus Leader,"He's a super individual, very intelligent, a very good pilot, bubbling with talent. He was a super individual, second seat to nobody." Browning said he had talked to Eslick at the Sioux Falls Airshow at Joe Foss Field earlier this summer, and the young pilot with the sunburned face was excited about an annual family vacation that had just ended in Minnesota. "I know he was a great family man," Browning said. "I met his daughter; I'd seen her several times out here. She was the pride and joy of his life." Browning said he understood that Schmitz was the son of Eslick's girlfriend, Angie Schmitz of Brookings. School officials in Brookings said they learned Monday morning that one of their students might have been a victim in the crash. Schmitz's obituary reveals the special relationship between the 12-year-old and Eslick. "Tristan's mother Angie brought into his life a special friend Todd Eslick, who introduced him to aeronautics, which inspired Tristan to enroll in the Civil Air Patrol," the obituary states. "Tristan had flown with Todd on several occasions and really enjoyed flying with him. His loved ones are truly grateful that Tristan was able to spend his last moments with Todd doing something he truly loved." "It's a terrible tragedy for his family," Brookings Superintendent Roger DeGroot said of Schmitz's death. "He was a good kid, actually a great kid. He was friendly and very musical, I think, in voice music. And he had lots of friends." The Vanguard Squadron had been scheduled to perform Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 during Riverboat Days in Yankton. A decision on whether the fleet will fly to Yankton hasn't yet been made, Kuhns told the Plain Talk. Editor's note: Thanks to both reporter Steve Young and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader for permitting us to publish portions of his report.