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Rochester man who died in plane crash remembered as hard worker with a smile

Ethan Smith, 20, of Rochester, is being remembered as the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back.

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Lourdes' Ethan Smith in the All-City Invitational cross country meet boys race Oct. 8, 2019, at Century High School in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — Ethan Smith is remembered by friends as always having a smile on his face regardless of what was in front of him.

Smith, 20, was killed along with 28-year-old John Zeman on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, in a plane crash outside Red Wing Regional Airport .

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“It makes me feel so good. I just get out there and I feel a whole lot younger," said Phyllis Lokker, a resident at The Waters on Mayowood, about her bubble blowing tradition.
“As far as this entire thing, I have had no choice. I had no choice at my house. I had no choice over the legal aspect of it in the court system,” said Heather McConnell of Pine Island, Minnesota. “For me, it boils down to a control thing.”

"He was the kid who would literally do anything for the team, like run through a brick wall," friend Van Albrecht said.

Albrecht and Smith grew up together as neighbors, teammates and friends.

"He always had a smile on his face and was never in a bad mood," Albrecht said. "Whatever he was going through that day, it didn't show. He was always laughing and always positive."

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The plane, a 2012 Glasair Super 2, left Rochester International Airport at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday for a training flight, with a planned destination of Red Wing Regional Airport, which is located across the Mississippi River near Hager City, Wisconsin.

Around 1:40 p.m. Tuesday, local emergency responders were called to the scene of the crash in a field along Wisconsin Highway 35, roughly half of a mile west of the airport.

Albrecht said one of his favorite memories was Smith scoring his first goal during a tough season his senior year playing hockey for Lourdes High School in Rochester.

"It was one of the coolest things ever. He jumped in the air," Albrecht said, adding that the coaches were ecstatic for the goal because everyone had been rooting for Smith to score.

Albrecht's father, David Albrecht, coached Smith on and off since Smith was 12 years old, and said Smith had a passion for flying and had been flying solo for a couple years.

On the Lourdes High School Class of 2020 senior spotlight page, Smith wrote about his plans to study commercial aviation and eventually become a commercial airline pilot.

"Everyone's at a loss," Albrecht said. "I know a lot of the family, and that's pretty tough."

Smith is also remembered as a person who held himself accountable.

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"One of the biggest things I remember is just his attention to detail and how much he cared," said Joe Knoepke, a former hockey coach of Smith's. "If he made a mistake in any way, shape or form, whether mental or physical, he would always want to know what he can do better."

The National Traffic Safety Board is continuing its investigation of the crash, which is expected to take several months to complete.

"His teammates absolutely loved him. He was a great kid. He has wonderful parents, and it's a terrible loss," Knoepke said.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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