MOUNT PLEASANT - Friends and associates Tuesday praised an Illinois business leader and pilot, and authorities called his actions heroic, a day after he perished in a single-engine plane crash here.
Pilot Phillip Pines, 76, of Highland Park, Ill., died Monday night when his six-seat airplane crashed into a field in Mount Pleasant, according to Mount Pleasant police. Pines retired late last year from Great Dane Trailers where he had been chief operating officer.
"He left an indelible mark on our company, successfully ingraining into the organization a culture of strength and excellence," William Crown, president and chief executive officer of Great Dane Limited Partnership, said in a written statement issued Tuesday afternoon. "I speak for our board of directors and employees in saying we are deeply saddened by his passing."
Great Dane Trailers is based in Chicago and Savannah, Ga., and makes dry van, refrigerated and platform trailers, as well as refrigerator truck bodies.
Mount Police said Pines acted "heroically" by crashing in an open field, avoiding several populated subdivisions nearby.
"The plane actually impacted right adjacent to the road (Spring Street)," said John Brannen, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. The plane then skidded to a stop in the field, he said.
"If he would have crashed into a residential area, the impact could have been more catastrophic," Brannen said.
The airplane crashed at about 6:34 p.m. Monday just west of Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St. Pines was the sole occupant.
"He was very, very successful, but to meet him and talk to him - you'd never know that," friend Pete Premo said. "He was very friendly, down to earth."
Premo said he met Pines five or six years ago when Premo was selling his hangar at the Baraboo-Dells Flight Center, an airfield about four miles south of Wisconsin Dells. Although Pines didn't buy Pines' hangar, Premo said the two became friends. Pines sometimes was accompanied to the Baraboo-Dells Flight Center with his beloved dog, Mike.
Pines was humble, Premo said, and a naturalist who loved pheasant hunting, and who could be called a "tree-hugger."
Records show Pines owned more than 2,000 acres in Columbia County. In 2007, the property was named part of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative's "Important Bird Area."
Racine County Chief Medical Examiner Tom Terry said an autopsy is set for this morning.
Brannen, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the airplane would be moved by today to a hangar in the Oshkosh area for further investigation.
Pines had been flying his Socata TBM 700 turbo-prop plane south from Central Wisconsin Airport in Wausau to Waukegan Regional Airport in Lake County, Ill.
Brannen said Pines was about 10 miles west of Milwaukee when he initially reported to air-traffic controllers that he couldn't maintain altitude and the plane was descending.
Controllers radioed back that Batten International Airport in Racine was closest, and Brannen said Pines was trying to reach it. But his plane crashed about 21/2 miles southwest of there.
Brannen said it is too early to determine whether the plane crash was caused by a mechanical malfunction. It was manufactured just last year, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
Pines' first flight in that airplane was in August 2010, Brannen said. Premo said Pines had the plane inspected three or four weeks ago.
Premo, treasurer of the Baraboo Dells Aviation Association, said Pines' plane was highly sophisticated. He estimated its value at $3.5 million.
"When (Pines) bought it, he went to a special school for a week to get trained on what's different with this airplane," Premo said.
Members of Pine's immediate family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.