RANTOUL, IL -- Operator Jon Buerkett, 56, of Melody Music (Champaign) died in a small plane crash here around 9:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, July 24. Buerkett's wife Dana, 47, and their daughter Morgan, 19, were on board and also died in the crash.
The coroner said the victims died on impact.
Melody Music partner Tom Fiedler said the Buerketts were en route to Florida. The plan was to drop off Morgan, a member of her college volleyball team, at a sports camp, after which her parents would proceed to a family vacation home in Sarasota.
Buerkett, an instrument-rated pilot with 20 years' experience, was piloting his single-engine Piper PA 46 Mirage. Upon takeoff from its home base at Rantoul Airport, about 125 miles southwest of Chicago, the plane ran into wind shear.
An eyewitness said the tail flipped up and the aircraft began to plummet nose-first, then struck a power line. Upon hitting the ground, the plane burst into flames, leaving wreckage strewn about the crash site.
Local officials said high winds and rain had suddenly moved into the area. Friends described Buerkett as a cautious and meticulous pilot who would not knowingly fly in severe weather. An eyewitness said Buerkett was attempting to depart before the weather system arrived but rain had just started at about the time of takeoff.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating precise details of the cause of the crash.
Born in 1955, Jon Buerkett attended Centennial High School in Champaign. There, his basketball skills brought him an offer from the minor leagues, which he declined.
Shortly after graduation in 1973, Buerkett and Fiedler began working at Melody Music, then owned by Fiedler's father. Around 1980, the two men purchased the business. Fiedler said they had remained close friends ever since.
Melody Music operates jukebox and amusement equipment in area bars and restaurants. In addition to his part ownership of the route, Buerkett was part owner of Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham in Champaign. He also owned shares in an apartment complex.
Dana Buerkett, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, worked in the advertising industry for over two decades. She founded Dana Buerkett Inc., a public relations firm, and ran it as president for several years. She had recently sold the company and was working as an ad industry consultant.
Morgan Buerkett had just completed her freshman year at the University of Chicago.
The Buerketts were known for supporting numerous charities, as well as church and civic organizations. Roundhouse, a home for runaway children, was among the groups it supported. Although not Catholic, they sent their daughters to a local Catholic academic high school, which they strongly supported with volunteerism and financial contributions.
Ashley Buerkett, 26, Morgan's sister and a graphic designer in Chicago, is among the survivors of the family.