MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- The pilot who died in a fiery helicopter crash in this east metro suburb Wednesday was a skilled, experienced flyer and was remembered as a generous, loving family man.
Mike Kramer flying dropping mosquito control pellets in ponds and marshes when his helicopter appeared to stall and fall from the sky. His Bell 47 chopper landed in an unoccupied garage in Maplewood and erupted in flames.
"He was an excellent father and a loving husband," Tricia Kramer of Saint Charles said of her husband of 18 and a half years.
"He was a Christian, hard-working, conscientious, generous and loyal man."
The 44-year-old Army veteran also left behind two children, ages 9 and 12, in addition to a 52-year-old foster child with developmental disabilities.
Mike Kramer was one of 13 children who grew up on Eddie and Mary Kramer's farm near Saint Charles in the rolling hills of southeast Minnesota.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Agriculture, and was a dairy farmer in Wisconsin before becoming a professional pilot.
Tricia said the couple also operate group homes for persons with disabilities in the St. Charles area.
"He's a wonderful person, and a farmer at heart," she said.
Dave Kramer told KARE that his brother had flown in a wide range of situations and helicopters.
"He flew TV news aerials, he flew tourists over the Smoky Mountain National Park, he flew medical helicopters and in agricultural settings including mosquito control," Kramer said.
He described his brother as a kind and sympathetic person. They were together last Sunday at a Father's Day celebration.
"I was in their house this afternoon. There's a picture for Father's Day that reads 'Best dad' on the window," Kramer said.
"It's really a tough situation. The thing that saddens me the most is when I think of those children losing their daddy."
Skilled and experienced
Kramer's employer and friend, Scott Churchill, gave high marks to the flyer he lost in Maplewood.
"Mike was one of the most safe, conscientious pilots that I have," Churchill told KARE.
"He was down to earth. He would give you the shirt off his back and help you, and he was so family oriented."
Churchill owns Scott's Helicopter Service in Le Sueur, Minnesota. It's the company that also provides aerial footage for KARE 11 and several other Twin Cities TV stations.
"Having one of the guys passing is like losing a member of my family because we're all a very tight knit group," Churchill said.
"I can replace aircraft but I can't replace pilots."
He said the suburban environment is not as forgiving in a crash situation, compared to those that occur in more open farming areas.
"Helicopter accidents normally are very survivable because we are not going at high air speeds, and we usually when we're doing mosquito control we're at lower elevations and altitudes," Churchill said.
He survived one himself in 2003 when his chopper hit a power line, after he was temporarily blinded by the sun in rural Le Sueur County.
"I came to rest upside down in a small creek and it was a muddy area, so my landing was a little softer," Churchill recalled.
"It still broke nine bones in my back, but I got out and walked up on the bank and sat there until somebody got there."
His brother Gary Churchill survived a crash in 2007 while flying mosquito control near Ramsey, but has since died from cancer. The cause of his mechanical failure was never solved.
Another mosquito control pilot, Kevin Rossan, crash landed in Lake Marion near Lakeville in 2011, after an air hose came loose and caused a sudden loss of power.
"The complexity of the sites around homes makes it a little tighter environment, and every mosquito site is round, so it can be difficult working around homes all day," Churchill said.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, will attempt to come up with an explanation of the crash. The agency will examine the helicopter's Rolls Royce engine as well as other parts of the doomed bird.
"They'll come to my facility in Le Sueur and we'll examine records, pilot records, aircraft records," Churchill explained.
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