Junction City Investigators combed through a 4-mile rural area in central Florida on Friday trying to determine what caused a single-engine plane to break apart in midair and crash into a swampy area, killing a Kansas businessman, his wife and their four young children.
The single-turboprop, fixed-wing plane broke apart and went down about 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the Tiger Creek Preserve, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. The 4,900-acre preserve is about 50 miles southwest of Orlando. Deputies reached the area by helicopters, and it was clear no one survived, the sheriff's office said.
Ron Bramlage, a 45-year-old businessman in Junction City who owned Roadside Ventures LLC, was piloting the 2006 Pilatus Pc-12/47. His wife, Rebecca, 43, and the couple's children — Brandon, 15; Boston, 13; Beau, 11; and 8-year-old Roxanne — were killed, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said. The family was returning home to Junction City from the Bahamas.
Tim Monville, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said Friday the investigation into the cause may take up to a year and will involve reconstructing the aircraft.
"Our main goal or job is to determine what happened and why," he said.
Investigators also were searching the 4-mile area from where the plane apparently began coming apart to the crash site for the body of 13-year-old Boston Bramlage. He boarded the plane with his family in the Bahamas but was "not on the plane when the plane hit the ground," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
"This is not the first crash I've worked where a person was ejected," he said.
Junction City Mayor Pat Landes said the couple supported many local projects and provided college scholarships. The family was well known in town and at Kansas State University, where the basketball arena is named for Ron Bramlage's grandfather.
At least two dozen bouquets of flowers lined the black wrought-iron fence surrounding the family's ranch-style home by Thursday evening. A trampoline sat in the front lawn, and a hammock hung between two large trees in the wooded yard.
Ron was the grandson of the late Fred Bramlage, a 1935 graduate of Kansas State and a Junction City businessman. Fred Bramlage was the lead contributor to the construction of Bramlage Coliseum, an arena that opened in 1988 and is home to the Kansas State men's and women's basketball teams.
A library in the city is named for Ron Bramlage's grandmother, Dorothy Bramlage.
Ron Walker, superintendent of the local school district, said the family was down-to-earth despite their wealth and famous name. He said Rebecca, along with heading the school board, was a board member of the local school foundation.
"I've been here about 10 years now. She and Ron, they were among the first people to greet me. I didn't even know they had any wealth at all for about five years. It was just, 'How can we help you, how can we serve?'"
The Rev. Al Brungardt, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Junction City, where the family attended weekly Mass, said Friday he has been getting several calls asking for guidance.
Parishioners want to know "how do I tell my kids," Brungardt said. "I mean, they were always a very happy family. Roxanne had her First Communion recently, the youngest one, and wrote me a letter afterward."
Brungardt said it's unclear when or where the family's funeral will be but that it may require a much larger venue than his church, which holds about 500 people. He said he has not yet heard from other family members about how they want to proceed with funerals.
"I think they were people of service and with the kids being involved in their schools and wrestling," the services will draw a large crowd, he said. "The family is going to decide," he said.
"We have to pray to the Holy Spirit will get us through this," he said. "Give me strength and wisdom that I don't have."
Associated Press writer Maria Sudekum in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.