RACINE — As investigators begin to unravel what may have led a single-engine plane that took off from Batten International Airport on Saturday afternoon to crash into Lake Michigan, some who knew the local man who was at the helm of the aircraft are convinced pilot error played no role.
Veteran pilot and flight instructor Bill Gensler, 75, of Racine, was one of two men who died Saturday when the 1975 Piper Cherokee plane Gensler was flying crashed into Lake Michigan, a spokesman with the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Sunday. Officials had no word on the cause of the crash.
Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Yaw, public affairs officer for Coast Guard in Cleveland, said he was not able to release the name of the other man on board the plane. He said the Coast Guard did confirm, however, that Gensler and the man were the only two people aboard the four-seater plane when it crashed into the lake about a mile off the coast of Cudahy.
According to David Mann, the general manager at Batten Airport, the plane took off from the airfield at about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The airport terminal was home to Gensler’s flight instruction business, Gensler Aviation.
Mann said Sunday that he doubts the crash had anything to do with anything Gensler, who had logged more than 40,000 of flight hours during his lifetime, did or did not do.
“It seemed like it happened very quickly. It was more catastrophic than a mistake — possibly goose flying in the window, or the control surface starting not to function properly,” Mann said.
A longtime friend of Gensler’s, Kevin Weslaski, agreed.
“I can’t understand what happened. He was such a great pilot. You would not expect any pilot error at all,” Weslaski said. “I have been in storms with him where we couldn’t see the ground, and we were five feet from it and he would land right on the runway.”
The Coast Guard was notified of a potential crash just before 3 p.m. Saturday after air traffic controllers at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport lost radar and radio contact with the plane.
Fire Dispatch Supervisor Anna Pleier with the Milwaukee Fire Department said Sunday that there was no report of anyone seeing a plane go down, but that water rescue crews from the Coast Guard and Milwaukee police and fire departments began searching for a plane after a debris field was located in the water.
About five hours later, crews located the plane beneath 42 feet of water.
Investigator Michael Simley with the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office said Sunday that the soonest the department would be able to release the identity of the other man on board the plane would be this afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.