People who live near the Millard Airport regularly watch small private planes take off from and land on this 165-acre slice of land between cold storage facilities, housing subdivisions, PayPal offices, Interstate 80 and a golf course.
For Virginia and Stanley Jenkins, living near the airport’s flight path is something they won’t miss when they move. They were packing at 8:45 a.m. Sunday when Stanley stepped out of the garage and saw flames just short of the runway, behind a barbed wire fence he and others have seen pilots struggle to clear.
He called for his wife to come see the single-engine plane that appeared to have crashed on its nose, tail in the air. They watched as someone pulled up to the wreckage and pulled one person from it.
“He just sat down there with him,” said Virginia Jenkins, who shared cellphone video she took of the plane as it burned. “In my heart, I felt like that man was devastated.”
A man on the plane died at the crash scene, and a woman on the plane was given CPR while being driven to Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy. Hospital officials offered no update on her condition.
Authorities had not yet disclosed the victims’ identities. The 1962 Beechcraft Bonanza P35 was registered to an owner at an Omaha address.
Just across 132nd Street from the airport, at Millard Air Park Self-Storage, Jeff and Connie Sheehan had just arrived at their storage unit about 8:50 a.m. when they saw rescue crews rushing to the airport.
The Sheehans said they used to live in one of the subdivisions near the airport. Jeff said he’s seen close calls there and at his old home near the Des Moines airport.
He said the degree of crumpling and damage he saw led him to believe that someone had a medical issue, overcorrected to avoid the fence or undershot the runway, losing altitude very quickly.
“I saw a number of pilots miss that fence on approach (and have to adjust),” he said. “Something happened there where he went into that (ground) hard.”
Weather was unlikely to have been a factor. The National Weather Service in Valley said the weather at the time of the crash was 82 degrees, with clear skies, high visibility and 8 mph winds.
Omaha Airport Authority police and the Omaha Police Department joined Federal Aviation Administration investigators at the scene. Some officers were interviewing witnesses from the airport, nearby businesses and homes.
They closed the airport from the time of the crash until shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday.
An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board will lead a probe of the crash. The investigator is expected to arrive from Chicago late Monday or early Tuesday, officials said.
Officials said the NTSB would post its first updates on the investigation to NTSB.gov this week. Investigations take a year or more to complete.
Sunday marked only the second time since 1983 that the Millard Airport recorded a fatal crash, according to the NTSB’s database of aircraft-related incidents.
The last was in December 2005, when three people were killed in a crash shortly after takeoff. Most of the 15 other crashes at or involving the Millard Airport since 1983 were less serious.
A recent example, in January, involved an engine failure on approach to the airport. An instructor of a student pilot made an emergency landing on a baseball field at 138th Street and Millard Avenue.