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 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.
"Standing here in my driveway, looking across the Vermillion River, I could see it," Brown said. "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.
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 located in the middle of an unharvested cornfield.
Fire units extinguished the fire, which burned approximately two acres of corn, and found the pilot, the plane's only occupant, deceased in the wreckage.
The name of the pilot has not been released, pending final identification and notification of family members.
The crash area has been secured by the officers of the county sheriff's department, pending the arrival of Federal Aviation Administration officials who will investigate the cause of the crash.