Bill Brown, who lives near the corner of 12th and Broadway streets below the bluff in lower Vermillion, is used to watching planes take off from Harold Davidson Field, the municipal airport located south of the city.
He knew by the sound coming from the sky Friday afternoon that an ultralight aircraft he had been watching was in trouble.
The aircraft crashed in the middle of a cornfield located west of the city airport, killing its pilot, Lowell Rahn, 75, of Newcastle, NE.
"Standing here in my driveway, looking across the Vermillion River, I could see it," Brown said late Friday afternoon. "It was sideways, with the wing straight up in the air, and the engine was full throttle, and I could see it going down.
"I knew something was wrong, and I heard it hit the ground across the river," he said.
Brown hopped onto his four-wheeler and drove to the scene.
"I got within 10 to 15 feet of it (the plane), and I was scared to get any closer," he said. "The cornfield was all on fire when I got there, and everything was totally engulfed."
Brown said he called out into the field, but received no reply. "I was hollering over there, hoping that somebody would holler back. I didn't know if they may have had a parachute on or not, but I didn't hear anybody holler back."
Brown also joined a chorus of concerned citizens who dialed the Clay Area Emergency Services Communications Center in Vermillion to report the crash and fire.
Calls began to be received at about 4:15 p.m. Friday, according to a press release from Vermillion Police Chief Matt Betzen.
A news release issued by the Clay County Sheriff's Department Sept. 15 noted that "Preliminary information received indicates Mr. Rahn had taken off from the Vermillion airport but was possibly returning to the airport, based on witness statements, when the aircraft crashed into an unharvested cornfield near the airport."
Betzen said personnel from the offices of the Clay County Sheriff, Vermillion Fire Department, the city police department, the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation responded immediately to the crash area.
Fire units extinguished the fire, which burned approximately two acres of corn, and found Rahn, the plane's only occupant, deceased in the wreckage.
The crash area was secured by the officers of the county sheriff's department. Officials of the Federal Aviation Administration officials are investigating the cause of the accident.