An hour before their plane went down, Nicole Parfitt tweeted the message “Day with Dad,” followed by a heart sign.
At 14, the high school freshman loved flying with her father, a licensed pilot who posted photos of the pair in his single-engine plane on Facebook.
So it was with shock and sadness Monday that family and friends fought to accept the news of their last flight.
Todd Parfitt, 50, a United Airlines dispatcher, and Nicole, a popular dance team member at school, were killed as their plane crashed outside a small airport about 20 miles north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
“It’s bad enough to lose a good friend, but with a child involved, it’s worse,” said a friend, Brent Bluthardt of Antioch, Ill, whose daughter is on the same dance team as Nicole. “I know that Nicole loved going flying with her dad.”
– MCT News Service
The plane, registered to Parfitt, appeared to nose-dive at 1:25 p.m. Sunday about a half-mile from the runway at Burlington Municipal Airport, officials said. Parfitt had leased a hangar at the airport for about eight years, according to airport officials.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating, with a preliminary report expected in 10 days, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.
No one is sure what went wrong.
“He stalled the aircraft on landing and went in,” said Gary Meisner, the airport’s general manager. “There were witnesses saying he was turning, coming in for final landing.”
On Monday morning, many of Nicole’s classmates arrived at school dressed in purple, the color of the freshman class, Antioch High School Principal John Whitehurst said.
After school, a picture of Nicole’s locker, covered with cards and photographs, was posted on Twitter.
Besides being a well-known and active member of the high school dance team, Nicole was close friends with many members of the girls basketball team, Whitehurst said.
“The dance coach said she was a very talented young lady, very dedicated to dance and a very sweet young lady,” Whitehurst said. “She was a kid who was well-liked by many kids at the school.”
The dance and basketball team members met with counselors to mourn and talk during a “pretty emotional meeting,” he said.
Todd Parfitt had just turned 50. He and his wife, Robin, also have a younger son.
Robin Parfitt works at the Lake County, Ill., state’s attorney’s office. Co-workers released a statement saying their thoughts and prayers were with her and her family.
“Robin is a highly valued, long-term employee of the office and when one member of our state’s attorney family grieves, we all grieve,” the statement read.
Family members declined comment Monday.
Bluthardt said he believes father and daughter were enjoying the nice weather Sunday afternoon.
“They were probably hoping for a last flight before the plane goes away for the winter,” he said.
The Burlington airport has no control tower, and the pilot was not in contact with air traffic controllers when the plane went down. About 90 to 100 planes are stored in hangars at the airport, Meisner said.
On a Facebook page that was created Sunday in honor of Nicole, one message read: “They may have not made it to the runway that they intended, but they did land safely in heaven.”
Friends were unsure about funeral arrangements.
“Right now, we are just a bunch of friends grieving,” Bluthardt said.
Outside the Parfitts’ Antioch home Monday, hundreds of young people crowded onto the lawn for a vigil, where they lit candles, dropped off bouquets of flowers, shared stories, cried and greeted family members.
Antioch High junior Samantha Olson said she didn’t know Nicole personally but added, “It’s a small town, and everyone here is community.”