JUNCTION CITY, Kan. – A Kansas businessman, his wife and their four children were killed Thursday when their small plane crashed into a swampy area of central Florida, and word quickly spread to their hometown where the family was known for their charitable work and always having a house full of neighborhood kids.
The single-turboprop, fixed-wing plane was heading home to Junction City from the Bahamas when it broke apart and went down about 12:30 p.m. in the Tiger Creek Preserve, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida.
Deputies reached the area by helicopters, but it was clear there were no survivors, the sheriff's office said. The cause of the crash wasn't immediately known, and parts of the plane were found nearly 3 ½ miles away, investigators said.
Ron Bramlage, a prominent businessman in Junction City who owned Roadside Ventures LLC, was piloting the 2006 Pilatus Pc-12/47. The 45-year-old, his wife, Rebecca, 43, and the couple's children — Brandon, 15; Boston, 13; Beau, 11; and 8-year-old Roxanne — were killed.
"It's just a horrific loss," Junction City Mayor Pat Landes said, adding that 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.
Standing in his front yard across the street, Rick Bazan said he'd been friends with Ron Bramlage since childhood. He said his friend would often help local families financially, such as paying for kids to go to wrestling camps if their parents couldn't afford to send them.
He said Rebecca, who was president of the local school board, "never stopped working. She was tireless." She would be embarrassed by the outpouring of support now at her home, where at least a half-dozen friends of the couple's children were always running around, Bazan said.
"It's going to be a long time getting over this one," he said as he watched the family's neighbors and friends gather outside.
Bella Omann, 14, who went to middle school with the two younger boys, said Beau "was really the funniest kid I've ever met." She had an advanced geometry class with Boston, whom she said "loved reading books. We would always talk about our favorite books," including the Harry Potter novels. He read so much, she said, that their teacher wouldn't allow extra material on students' desks to keep him from reading.
Another neighbor, Joann Williams, recalled driving by the home and seeing the children bouncing on the trampoline. "They were just a beautiful family. They were just so together, cohesive," she said.
The couple were graduates of Kansas State University and members of the K-State Alumni Association, President's Club, Foundation Trustees and Ahearn Fund.
"The Bramlage family holds a special place in the history of Kansas State University and K-State Athletics, and Ron and Becky have been loyal supporters and great fans of K-State. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bramlage family during this difficult time," University President Kirk Schulz and Athletics Director John Currie said in a joint statement.
Ron was the grandson of the late Fred Bramlage, a 1935 graduate of K-State and Junction City businessman. Fred Bramlage was the lead contributor to the construction of Bramlage Coliseum, a multipurpose arena that opened in 1988 and is home to the K-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 4,900-acre Tiger Creek Preserve about 50 miles southwest of Orlando contains hardwood swamps, hammocks, scrubby flatwoods, pine flatwoods, sandhill and longleaf pine/wiregrass habitat, according to its website.
The crash site was only reachable by helicopters and all-terrain vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation, which the Federal Aviation Administration said would take a long time. The family had stopped for customs in Fort Pierce, Fla., and had taken off a half-hour before the crash.
Associated Press writers Dana Fields and Maria Fisher in Kansas City, Mo., and David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.