Fatal plane crash rocks community just days after devastating tornado

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Divers with a towing service pull the plane that crashed into the Red Cedar River Wednesday killing 17-year-old Owen Knutson of Chetek. A passenger in the plane Hunter Gillett, 18 of Cameron was taken by Bloomer Ambulance to an Eau Claire Hospital and later flown to Rochester where he is in serious condition.

A small Wisconsin town still reeling after a tornado that ripped through the area last week endured another tragedy Wednesday night when a plane carrying two teenagers went down in the Red Cedar River, claiming the life of a 17-year-old junior at Chetek-Weyerhauser High School.

The pilot, Owen Knutson, was pronounced dead at the scene, with 18-year-old Hunter Gillett airlifted to Mayo Clinic, where he remains in serious condition.

"Every one of our first responders knew one or both of these families, being local kids," Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said. "Good kids, great athletes, it’s just very very tough on them and it just took a toll. I’m not usually at a loss for words... but I am."

According to everyone in the community, Knutson grew up loving planes--his father is an airline pilot, and his Facebook profile picture prominently displayed the two-seat Piper fixed wing that was his pride and joy. 

Gillett, the quarterback on his high school football team, was set to graduate Friday night--with a stop in La Crosse, Wis. to compete at the state track meet soon after. School officials said he does have movement in his arms and legs, which they say is a promising sign.

The incident comes on the heels of a devastating tornado that took the life of one local man, left over 50 people injured and many more without homes or power.

"With the storms and obviously now with the accident, I think it’ll be an emotional graduation ceremony tomorrow evening," Fitzgerald said. "But I think it’ll be a time to come together and appreciate the support of one another."