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Friends, family remember Ottertail pilot lost in crash

Adam Menze with his wife, Rhonda, and their six children: Ella, Isaac, Paul, Lily, Gloria and Anna. Submitted photo

Friends and family of Adam Menze, the Ottertail pilot who died in a plane crash last week, remember him as an "amazing" family man who was full of faith.

Menze, who crash landed near Parkers Prairie last Wednesday, was an experienced flyer. Those who knew him are calling this a freak accident.

"I flew with him numerous times. He was a good pilot, never did anything crazy or silly," said Grant Smith, a friend of Menze's, and a pilot himself. "He's done a lot of cross-country flying over the years and he's a very competent pilot."

Menze knew what he was doing in the air. The 41-year-old had been flying since he was a teenager. He, along with his father, mother and twin brother, Aaron, all had their pilot's licenses.

"To have one of your fellow brothers and pilots involved in a fatality, it's kind of a sad deal," said Smith. "This is a tragedy beyond belief."

Friends told WDAY last week that Menze was a go-getter and, more importantly, a family man. He leaves behind a wife, Rhonda, and six children, ages 10 to four months: Ella, Isaac, Paul, Lily, Gloria and Anna.

A fund for the children's education - called "The Menze Kids Fund" - has been set up at First National Bank of Henning, Ottertail and Battle Lake.

"He had great family values. He raised his kids to be honorable just like he was," said friend Doug Bjorklund. "If we could raise our families and have Adam's personality traits, this world would be a different place."

Rhonda told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that her husband, who owned a mechanical engineering consulting company, was flying home from a business trip to Illinois when the crash happened. She said he started flying in 1992 and they have a grass airstrip near their home, which is kept plowed in the winter.

"He will be dearly missed," she said. "He was a man with an amazing faith, and he was just an all-around amazing man.

She added that her husband made a positive impression on everyone he met.

He was a "very determined individual and very focused and very forward thinking, visionary type of guy," said Smith.

Spokesman Tony Molinaro, of the Federal Aviation Administration Great Lakes Region, which is based in Chicago, said Menze's plane went down about five miles north of Parkers Prairie. He said there was no fire associated with the crash.

Rural Parkers Prairie resident, Gayle Snook, said he heard what sounded like a crop-dusting plane with engine trouble at about 6:25 p.m. last Wednesday, followed by a loud crash.

When he went out to investigate, he found debris on his driveway. He asked his father, who lives nearby, whether something had fallen off his truck. When his dad said no, Snook checked out the area near his home and discovered the wreckage of a plane in some trees about 90 yards from his house.

He said it appeared the plane had touched down and possibly bounced from a nearby snowy field.

"I was wondering if he (the pilot) wasn't trying to get onto the road because he was having problems with the plane, mechanical problems, but I don't know," said Snook, who reported the badly damaged single-engine propeller plane to the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office. "I heard something that sounded like a backfire, kind of like a crop duster. Then I heard a bang."

Brad Hopkins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D., said weather was likely not a factor in the crash. The temperature was around 12 degrees.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are continuing to investigate the incident.

Forum Communications reporters Andrea Hubbell, Wendy Reuer and Dave Olson contributed to this report.