Two Merrill men escape serious injury in small plane crash
By Tina L. Scott
MERRILL – Stan Janowiak and Lee Opsahl of Merrill both miraculously walked away from a crash landing on Tuesday, May 11, when the small plane they were in experienced engine issues and lost power.
Opsahl was piloting the aircraft, a Beech C23, when the aircraft’s engine stalled and the plane crash landed in a field, incurring extensive damage, including prop strike and collapsed gear, according to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) preliminary accident and incident investigation report.
The crash occurred in a field northeast of Merrill near Prairie Road and Highway C, narrowly missing all trees and electrical wires. Amazingly, Janowiak and Opsahl were both able to exit the aircraft on their own and walk away, incurring only bruises and minor injuries.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to the crash after the fact by two separate 911 calls, one from Rick McCullough from the Merrill Airport and the other from the FAA Flight Services. Both calls came in at roughly the same time, right around 4 p.m., and 911 operators were able to relay information from each caller to the other as they gathered information.
The FAA Flight Services caller indicated they had received an emergency transmitter signaling distress from a plane in the area, but they were not specifically certain of the location, only that it was in the area of two rural airstrips near Merrill. The caller indicated the signal can be set off when a plane goes down or due to a hard landing or sometimes it can get set off when someone is doing maintenance on the aircraft.
McCullough then called to report the plane went down in a field about 200 feet off the road, no one was injured, and all the power and fuel were shut off along with the distress signal. He reported the pilot was with him at the Merrill Airport and Janowiak had returned home.