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Aitkin plane crash victims will be missed by community

The Aitkin community Thursday mourned the death of an Aitkin couple who died in a plane crash Thursday morning northwest of Milaca.

Thomas and Elinor Eberhardt had been on their way to visit his parents in Beaumont, Texas, according to friends, when their small plane crashed in a field. 

Thomas Eberhardt, the pilot, had contacted air-traffic controllers about 10:15 a.m. Thursday and reported problems with the flight controls, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson.

“Shortly after that, the aircraft was lost on radar,” Knudson said.

A farmer reported the wreckage in an open field near Milaca in Mille Lacs County. Knudson said there was no post-wreckage fire but both people on board were killed. 

The Eberhardts moved to Aitkin from Pennsylvania in 1991, bringing with them three businesses that were consolidated under the name TeeMark Corp, located in the Aitkin Industrial Park. The businesses produce foundry ladles, can crushers and lake restoration operations, according to a 1999 Brainerd Dispatch story.  

Alan Cibuzar, owner of A.W. Research in Brainerd, had been good friends with the Eberhardts for about 20 years, before they moved to Aitkin. He and Thomas had been involved with the North American Lake Management Society and the organization had a publication that Thomas Eberhardt was involved with that was being printed in Aitkin. Cibuzar said as a result the Eberhardts visited Aitkin, fell in love with the area, and relocated their businesses there. 

Cibuzar, also a pilot, said Eberhardt started flying about 10 years ago and he excelled at it. He last spoke to him Wednesday when he and a friend flew to Aitkin and pushed Eberhardt’s plane out of the hangar, then stopped in at his business to say hello to him and his wife. 

Cibuzar said one of his employees learned of the plane crash and Cibuzar instantly knew it was his friend’s plane since it was the only one scheduled to take off Thursday morning. Cibuzar said the Eberhardts’ deaths were not only a personal loss but a loss for the community.

“He was just a great guy, very calm and systematic and focused,” said Cibuzar. “And Elinor was a beautiful, beautiful person.”

Cibuzar said Elinor Eberhardt had battled breast cancer during the past year but was doing well. 

Scott Johnson, who co-owns The Office Shop in Brainerd and Aitkin with his wife, Jodie, said the Eberhardts were good customers and he had just been in the Aitkin office Wednesday, showing employees pictures of his “babies,” a car and his plane.

“They’re just really great people, they were both community minded,” said Johnson. “They cared a lot about Aitkin and the surrounding area. The whole community is going to miss them, definitely.”

Thomas Eberhardt was charter president of the Aitkin Lakes Area Rotary Club and Wednesday gave a building update on an orphanage in Tanzania that the Rotary was helping to support, a project that Eberhardt spearheaded, said Bernie Rosco, a fellow Rotarian. 

Eberhardt, an engineer, also designed a portable, compact display board and storage unit that has been sold to other Rotary Clubs. His wife had served on the board of directors at Riverwood HealthCare Center and the Jaques Art Center. 

“This is a terrible shock,” Rosco said of the Eberhardts’ deaths. “It’s a tragic loss for the family but for our community as a whole. He was a wonderful entrepreneur. He had this entrepreneurial spirit that you read about it books. He lived it. He brought a lot of jobs to our area. He was a good man and also a loving family man. It is a very tragic loss, obviously to their family but to their many friends and acquaintances, too. The community has lost an ardent supporter.”

Rosco said Eberhardt had recently handed over active leadership of TeeMark Corp. to his son, Paul, but he continued on as a consultant. The Eberhardts and their family also were stockholders in American Peat Technology. 

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said the NTSB in leading the investigation into the crash, which could take up to a year.

The National Weather Service said there was fog and light rain at the time of the crash, with visibility of between 1 and 3 miles.

This story contains information compiled by the Associated Press.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.