“It was like the Lord told him to do it now – you have an important job to do tomorrow,” wrote Glenn Buxengard, referring to neighbor George Wiemerslage, whose tractor had run out of gas the night before – New Year’s Eve. It was dark and time for chores, so Wiemerslage was going to leave gassing up until tomorrow. But he didn’t wait. So, when Buxengard phoned him the next morning – New Year’s Day, 1967 – the tractor and snow scoop were ready.
“There was a light, frosty fog in the air as I ran from the barn to the house, or I would be late for church,” remembers Buxengard, whose family farmstead abuts the old townsite of Wilmington – southeast of Spring Grove and southwest of Caledonia.
“As I reached the house, I heard an airplane. It was not much over a 100 feet above the ground.” He recognized the plane as a four-passenger Cessna from the Spring Grove Flying Club.
“It turned around and flew north about one mile. I could see they were in real trouble. It turned again and came towards me and started climbing slightly to clear the woods, when all of a sudden, the wings started wobbling, it flew through the last tree in the woods and crashed into the field.”
Buxengard hurried into the house to call an ambulance and phone Wiemerslage to take his tractor and snow scoop to the field entrance and open a quarter-mile path, so the ambulance could reach the airplane.
Buxengard and his wife La Verne drove on that path to reach the crash site. He drove as fast as he could. “If I stopped, I’m sure we would get stuck in the snow.”
Discovering four passengers, Buxengard told his wife to return home and call a second ambulance. In her church clothes, she ran through the woods and deep snow to make the call.
The milk hauler gave her a ride back to the field entrance, where she waited to wave down the ambulance and direct it to the just-cleared pathway to the plane. She waited again – for the second ambulance.
The pilot was 46-year-old Larry Moen, a Spring Grove plumber, who along with 33-year-old Spring Grove veterinarian Roger Bender, were flying two military servicemen back to Fort Bliss, Tex. James Peterson, age 19 from rural Caledonia, and Larry Anderson, age 21 from Spring Grove, had been back home for the holidays.
“I bent the gas line over as it was running gas on the dash and on Roger, and also turned the switch off,” said Buxengard. Bender, whose face was bloody, first thought he was pinned, but was just temporarily dazed. Believing there was no danger from fire, Buxengard told him to stay seated in the plane until the ambulance arrived.
Bender said that Moen was dead. Buxengard unbuckled Moen’s seat belt and pulled him out, laid him on the ground and pulled his jacket up over his face.
Anderson, who had sustained a compound leg fracture, was sitting on the ground and appeared to be in severe shock.
Peterson was lying on a broken-off wing – suffering from a back injury and shivering. “I didn’t have anything to cover him,’ recalls Buxengard, “so got his duffel bag out… I got the key out of his pocket and got his clothes out of the bag to cover him.”
Bender was carried from the plane to the first, one-patient ambulance. The second ambulance could handle two patients and took both young soldiers.
The Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) determined the crash had been caused by ice forming on the wings. At the direction of a deputy sheriff, Buxengard closed the gate and posted a sign saying “Keep out – airplane has been removed.” But people still came by the hundreds.
A few days later in the hospital at La Crosse, Wis., young Anderson said he didn’t remember anything after someone said, “We’re going to crash,” – until he woke up in the hospital. Bender had two broken ankles, an injured back and would limp for the rest of his life.
In gratitude, Bender said to Buxengard, “If you had not seen us crash, we may have all died.”
The source of this information was taken mostly from a retelling, written by eyewitness Glenn Buxengard.