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Rehberg Ranch residents stunned by Monday plane crash west of Billings

Pilot was killed
Posted at 4:30 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 18:30:10-04

One Billings family in the Rehberg Ranch subdivision originally thought the Monday plane crash near their house was a grass fire before more details emerged.

Brian Johnson, 45, is the father of 16-year-old Chloe and 13-year-old Bella. The trio was at home around 10 a.m. when the twin engine plane carrying one person crashed, killing the pilot.

“At about 9:45 a.m., I was just wrapping up a meeting with my staff … I looked out my office window and saw billowing black smoke. I thought one of the houses down the street was on fire," Brian said.

042020 brian johnson smoke.jpg<div class="Figure-credit" itemprop="author">Chloe and Bella Johnson
Pillar of smoke from Monday morning's plane crash as seen from Saddle Back Trail in the Rehberg Ranch subdivision.

Brian grabbed his cell phone and rushed outside to see if there was anything he could do to help.

"Then I noticed (the smoke) was actually the coulee, the city park land that’s kind of in between the Rehberg Ranch neighborhood and the hillside of the Rod and Gun Club," Brian said.

Brian's daughters have never seen anything like this before. They knew something was up when their dad rushed outside.

“I was doing homework and I saw my dad go outside, so I went outside. When I got outside I pulled out my phone and thought ‘wow, this is kind of cool.' I’ve never seen a fire before around this area. I’ve seen them in the (eastern) direction, but never that close to our house. So immediately I was thinking is it a grass fire? Are we going to need to evacuate or anything. How close is it? Is anybody hurt?" Bella said.

Brian called 911 and learned that first responders were already on their way to the crash site.

Cloe also originally thought the crash was a grass fire, because the area the smoke was coming from an area that dries out in the warmer months.

“Well I saw black smoke. And obviously I know that black smoke isn't good. I automatically thought that it was a grass fire because it gets pretty dry down there. Then when I found out that it was a plane, we were always checking the news," Cloe said.

From inside the family's house on Saddle Back Trail, no one heard the crash.

“We just see planes flying overhead all the time. I didn’t even hear it. I thought that I would have heard a crash or something. But I didn’t hear anything," Bella said.

The family said residents in Rehberg Ranch usually see planes flying in to land because the subdivision is under aircrafts' approach to the Billings Logan International Airport.

“It’s nice to sit out on your porch and watch the aircraft. But we don’t really like them that close. It’s pretty nuts. It’s crazy that it sounds like someone may have lost their life. That’s super sad. Our thoughts go out to them and their families for sure," Brian said.

The smoke from the plane crash dissipated within about 15 minutes, Brian said.

“After the first responders were up here, the black smoke started turning white pretty quickly. Which obviously means they were starting to put things out. (The smoke) was probably gone within 10 or 15 minutes. It was really cooled off quickly after that and then completely gone," Brian said.

The family wanted to thank the many first responders who helped with the crash. They saw the Yellowstone County sheriff's deputies, ambulances, Billings fire trucks and airport personnel.

“I can not believe how quickly they were out here. It just makes us feel so safe knowing that our community and our city services are that quick at responding to things. Thank you to them," Brian said.

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