Plane crash ignites grass fire outside Spearfish

A plane crash ignited a two-acre grass fire about six miles west of Spearfish Tuesday night. The pilot sustained minor injuries; his passenger was unhurt. Pioneer photo by Adam Hurlburt

SPEARFISH — Authorities said that one man sustained minor injuries in a plane crash outside Spearfish last night.

At about 6 p.m. Tuesday, deputies from the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office responded to reports of the crash about six miles west of Spearfish at 20116 Bear Ridge Rd.

Witnesses at the crash site said the pilot, 62-year-old John Widdoss, of Spearfish, and his passenger Justin Bierschwale, of Texas, were forced to make an emergency landing after a failed landing attempt on a private airstrip near the scene of the crash.

Sgt. Joe Leveque of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office said Widdoss was preparing to land his Cessna 175 at his nearby private airstrip when he experienced a heavy downdraft, he realized he wasn't going to make a successful landing, so he powered the airplane back up to circle around for a second try. Leveque said Widdoss experienced a second heavy down draft while attempting to climb up and away from his airstrip. He realized he wasn't going to clear the hill he was advancing on and that he could potentially collide with a home at the top, so he decided to make an emergency landing.

While attempting the emergency landing, the front landing gear was torn from the plane, causing it to skid to a stop in a hay field.

Both Widdoss and Bierschwale were able to exit the plane before it burst into flame. The fire quickly engulfed the airplane and then spread across the field, burning approximately two acres of grass before being extinguished by fire crews.

Widdoss sustained minor injuries and Bierschwale was not hurt.

The sheriff's office was assisted by the Spearfish Police Department and Volunteer Fire Department; Forest Service fire crews; Beulah, Wyo. Volunteer Fire Department; and the Spearfish Ambulance Service.

The crash is currently under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.

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