Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:56 p.m. Saturday.

Four businessmen active in agricultural construction died about 15 miles northeast of the Nebraska airport where their aircraft had taken off.

Killed in the Friday crash: pilot Mark Bottorff, 54, president of Bottorff Construction in Atchison, Kan., and passengers Ken Babcock, 72, president of Ken Babcock Sales of Hiawatha, Kan.; Jason Drane, 39, operations manager at Babcock Sales; and Chris Nelsen, 53, a salesman for Scott-Hourigan Company of York, Neb.

“It was kind of a black Friday here,” said Dean Nickels, a sales colleague of Nelsen’s at Scott-Hourigan.

The company specializes in irrigation and grain handling equipment. Nelsen was a longtime employee, Nickels said.

“He was a knowledgeable person, he enjoyed life, knew a lot of people and had a lot of friends,” he said.

The plane took off from the North Platte Regional Airport at 3:46 p.m., headed for York. The last contact between the plane and the air tower occurred seven minutes after takeoff, according to authorities.

The trip from North Platte to York was scheduled to take about 45 minutes.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have begun an investigation that could take a year to complete, said Elizabeth Isham Cory, a spokeswoman for the FAA.

At the time of takeoff, weather conditions in the North Platte area included freezing drizzle and visibility of 3 miles, the National Weather Service said.

Jerome Kramer, Lincoln County sheriff, said the crash site was 10 miles north and three miles east of Maxwell, a town that is east of North Platte along Interstate 80.

Isham Cory said when the plane did not arrive in York, a notice of missing aircraft was issued. The wreckage was found shortly after the search began, authorities said.

Jerry Ernzen, vice president of operations for Bottorff Construction, said Bottorff and Babcock collaborated on construction projects around the region that involved large complexes of grain bins and silos.

They had been in North Platte to look over a project that was under way and to investigate a job for later in the spring.

Ernzen said Bottorff was an experienced pilot, logging more than 2,600 hours of flying. He was flying a multi-engine Beechcraft Baron 58 manufactured by Raytheon and registered to Bottorff Construction.

Bottorff and Babcock traveled the Midwest undertaking commercial-scale grain bin projects.

Those who worked for the men spoke highly of them. “He was the best,” said a woman who worked for Babcock.

Bottorff leaves behind his wife, Linda, and two grown children, Justin Bottorff and Jordan Hawk, the Atchison Daily Globe reported.

Ernzen said Bottorff was a mentor to those around him. He was well-regarded in the community and had a passion for life, whether it was his business, flying, boating or sharing in the lives of others.

“Mark always seemed invincible,” he said. “He could give advice on anything — finance, personal life issues, ethics. This is truly a nightmare.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1102, nancy.gaarder@owh.com

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