LINCOLN — Dale Butler, 26, was a pilot and an aviation student who wanted to log more hours toward his flight instructor's certificate.
His friend Amy Rose Brobst, 23, had loved to fly since she was a little girl.
She rode along after he booked a Piper PA-28 for a three-hour round trip from the Millard Airport to Norfolk, Neb. — a flight that ended Saturday in a fatal crash.
They left the Omaha-area airport at 6:09 p.m. Brobst's relatives said they think the two grabbed a quick dinner at a restaurant near the Norfolk airport before heading back to Omaha at 8:03 p.m.
The two from Omaha were killed when the plane crashed in a soybean field shortly after takeoff. Witnesses told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that the plane had struck a power line about a half mile from the crash site.
Madison County Sheriff Vern Hjorth said his office was summoned at 8:54 p.m. Airport witnesses didn't immediately find the wreckage and at first believed that Butler had been able to avoid a crash and continue on his way. A farmer later found the plane.
Brobst moved to Omaha over Easter weekend and started a new job at Lanoha Nurseries on April 1, having finished her degree in landscape architecture in December at Colorado State University, said her father, Douglas Brobst, a remodeling contractor in Fort Collins.
She had worked at Lanoha for about a year in 2011 before deciding to return to Fort Collins to finish the final six credit hours for her degree. Lanoha officials asked her to come back to work for them as a project manager this spring.
Her mother, Judy, said Amy had texted her last week with a photo of the new sofa she had bought for her apartment near the nursery's offices.
“She was so excited to be starting her new life,” Judy Brobst said.
The Brobsts had met Butler once, when he and another young man flew to Fort Collins last year and visited Amy. Amy's parents said she and Butler were part of a large circle of friends.
Butler was the youngest child of Philip and Jeannette Butler of Colfax, Iowa. Philip Butler is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Colfax.
Butler said his son had discovered a passion for flying during the past three years, joining the Nebraska Air National Guard, where he was a senior airman for the 155th Refueling Wing, and attending college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Aviation Institute.
Though Saturday's flight was not part of his UNO schooling, he flew as many hours as he could to accumulate hours toward becoming a flight instructor, family members said.
“Any opportunity he had to fly, he would do it,” said his sister Holly Jochims of Omaha.
“He wanted to move on to the next goal.”
A second sister, Melinda Harshbarger, also lives in Omaha.
The plane, a Piper PA-28, was registered to Pro-Flite flight school based at the Millard Airport. Officials at the flight school declined to comment and referred questions to UNO.
Scott Vlasek, director of the Aviation Institute, said he was notified of the accident Sunday morning. He said faculty and students are heartbroken over Butler's death.
Jochims said her brother was a careful pilot. He had given plane rides to her and her husband and their two children, ages 6 and 3.
“He was a meticulous pilot and paid very good attention to detail,” she said. “He understood the weighty responsibility on his shoulders going up in an airplane. ... He wasn't one to hot dog around.”
She said the Butler family is mystified about the crash and anxiously awaiting more information.
The crash remains under investigation by the NTSB and the aircraft's manufacturer. An NTSB spokesman said a preliminary report would be available within 10 business days of the crash.
A Nebraska Air National Guard spokesman said Butler was a valued member of the unit.
He joined the Guard in March 2010 and was a student leader and an honors graduate of basic training, meaning that he finished in the top 10 percent of his class.
“While serving in the Nebraska Air National Guard, Senior Airman Butler was intelligent, inquisitive and confident and quickly became an essential member of the base fuels shop where he worked,” said Maj. Kevin Hynes. “He's going to be greatly missed.”
Brobst started out in college as a graphic designer but changed her major to landscape designing because she didn't want to be stuck inside an office in front of a computer.
She loved her dog, Tucker, an Australian cattle dog mix. She got the dog from a local animal shelter after persuading her parents to pay the adoption fees as a Christmas gift in 2010.
Lanoha officials issued a statement describing Brobst as a valued employee, a friend and a respected colleague.
“Her positive attitude, trusted opinion and friendship will be sorely missed.”
Another friend had planned to accompany Butler and Brobst on the trip to Norfolk on Saturday but missed the flight because of a last-minute change of plans.
Doug Brobst said he wasn't surprised that Amy would go for the plane ride. She loved being in the air, he said.
She had asked for an airplane ride for her ninth or 10th birthday, he said. When she was about 12, during a family trip to Buena Vista Colo., she went for a ride in a glider plane.
“They had to get pillows so she was tall enough to see out, but I remember seeing her smiling face in that glider as they took off,” he said.
Neither family had yet scheduled services.
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