April 18, 2014

Former state Rep. Don Dahl killed in ultra-light plane crash near Hillsboro

Every morning, seven days a week, former state representative Don Dahl would join friends for coffee and breakfast at the Wendy’s in Hillsboro.

Every morning, seven days a week, former state representative Don Dahl would join friends for coffee and breakfast at the Wendy’s in Hillsboro.

“Always there, always faithful,” Wendy’s manager Sherry Paquette said. “He was super nice, always had a smile on his face.”

Dahl, 69, was killed Friday afternoon when an ultra-light plane he was piloting crashed just south of his hometown in Marion County, a Kansas Highway Patrol report said.

A retired U.S. Navy pilot, Dahl served in the House as a Republican from 1997 through 2008. He spent his last two years as speaker pro tem, the third-highest leader in the majority party.

In December, Gov. Sam Brownback appointed him to the Supreme Court nominating commission.

Dahl was flying alone when the plane crashed about 1:45 p.m. next to a small pond two miles south and a half-mile west of Hillsboro, the report said.

He was flying north at a low altitude when the plane hit a tree branch, then struck the ground next to the pond and flipped upside down. It came came to rest upside down in the pond, the report said.

The plane belonged to a friend of Dahl’s who died about a year ago, said longtime friend Clint Seibel. Dahl was flying the plane from the friend’s farm to the Hillsboro airport for an estate sale, Seibel said.

He didn’t get very far. The pond was on the farm’s property.

Dahl was pronounced dead shortly after 2:30 p.m. at the Hillsboro hospital.

His vital signs weren’t stable enough to transport him by air to a Wichita hospital, Trooper Ben Gardner said.

“He was a very strong Christian and displayed a Christian viewpoint on life,” said Seibel. “He was a dedicated statesman.”

Seibel and Dahl met at Tabor College in Hillsboro, where Dahl was a track and soccer star. Together they spent summers toiling on a custom wheat cutting crew, working their way up from Texas to Montana.

“He would do anything for anybody,” Seibel said. “Whenever he did something, he did it all the way.”

Although he never married and lived alone, friends said, Dahl came from a large family. One of his brothers is a retired commercial airline pilot.

“He was very likable, highly respected in the community and church,” said Loren Funk, who knew Dahl for more than 40 years. “He’s going to be royally missed.”

Paquette said she knew Dahl used to fly planes but didn’t know he was still doing it.

“It was a shock when we found out about (the crash),” she said. “It felt like one of your friends had left.”

Dahl also was chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee for four years.

“That’s a tragic loss,” said Dick Kelsey, a former state representative from Goddard who served with Dahl in the Legislature. “He was a man of tremendous conviction, common sense and good judgment.”

Dahl was one of nine members on the nominating commission and one of four appointed by Brownback.

He replaced Janet Juhnke, a longtime Kansas Wesleyan University faculty member from Salina who died in January 2013 after serving nearly eight years on the commission.

“I am greatly saddened to hear of Donald Dahl’s passing,” Brownback said in a statement. “He had a proud legacy of public service. (Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer) and I extend our personal sympathy to his family and friends.”

Jost Funeral Home in Hillsboro is handling arrangements, but details weren’t available Friday.

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