Citizen soldiers respond to plane crash

Tragedy struck in Broken Bow the afternoon of March 28 when a privately owned aircraft went down short of the runway. The passenger died at the scene, and the pilot was severely burned. First on-scene was a Nebraska National Guard UH72 helicopter en route into Broken Bow on a training mission. “We heard the call. It was an emergency and any incoming traffic needed to clear out, so we did,” said Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Gonifas, one of two pilots on board the UH72. They, Gonifas and Warrant Officer Courtney Miller, headed east about two miles and circled. After a few minutes they called the aircraft but did not get an answer. About that time they heard the ELT (emergency locator transmitter) go off so they turned back. That’s when they saw a puff of black smoke and then a fireball. “We knew right away what we needed to do,” said Miller. They landed just west of the runway. Gonifas shut down the aircraft and Miller called 911. It was 1:20 p.m. a brilliant, but windy Wednesday afternoon, and Gonifas and Miller both immediately knew this wasn’t good. “We saw someone walking around the field, and initially just thought it was one of the neighbors. Because of the fire, we didn’t think anyone could have survived, but when we saw the individual lay down, we grabbed the first aid kit and treated as best as we could,” said Gonifas. The survivor, Dustin Webb, 33, was the pilot and he was badly burned. Gonifas said his training covered basic first aid, but it was Miller’s training that really paid off. She was trained first as an Army Medic before becoming a pilot. Both have served overseas, Gonifas in Afghanistan, and Miller in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We were glad to be of service,” said Miller. “We were glad to be able to help. We did what we could, with the supplies we had on hand.” They kept the pilot calm, and continually reassured him that help was on the way. Miller added that their thoughts go out to the families. “We pray for his recovery and hope for the best for the family. We know they are hurting right now,” said Miller. “He (Dustin) and his uncle have been on our minds.” He (Dustin) was airlifted from Broken Bow to St. Elizabeth Burn Center in Lincoln. According to an article by Cody Stark of the Huntsville Item, Dustin’s condition was upgraded earlier this week from critical to serious. Stark had spoken with the family and asked that the Broken Bow community remember the family in their prayers. Dustin’s uncle, John Webb, 48, also of Dodge, died in the crash. The two were en route back to Huntsville after leaving North Dakota Wednesday morning. Dustin is in the oil business in North Dakota and they were on their way home. John was a welder by trade, and had recently gone to work for his nephew. According to the flight plan they left Dickerson, N.D., that morning and were scheduled to arrive at the Broken Bow Municipal Airport around 1:10 p.m. The aircraft crashed in a cornfield about 100 yards short of the runway. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are handling the investigation. As of press time, a preliminary report had not yet been filed. Keith Holloway, a spokesperson for the NTSB, said it can be several weeks before a preliminary report is filed, and up to a year for the final analysis. “They look into everything,” he said.