Mike Bindl and his grounds crew helped the human and canine passengers aboard a downed plane full of rescue dogs after an emergency landing at Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee, Wis. Photos courtesy of Mike Bindl
Nothing Mike Bindl learned in turf school prepared him for what he encountered on-course Tuesday morning.
Alerted by an indescribable noise and a rumbling he likened to an earthquake, Bindl — superintendent at Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee, Wis., and four-year association member — rushed out of Western Lakes’ maintenance facility,
started dialing 911 and headed to an area between the snowy second and third fairways. There he found the immediate aftermath of a twin-engine plane’s emergency landing that easily could have had a tragic end.
“It was surreal,” Bindl says. “You see scenes like that on television, but they didn’t teach me Plane Crash 101 at UMass Amherst when I was there.”
Shortly after 9 a.m., Bindl was in his office when he heard a “weird, weird sound.”
“I can’t even explain it, but I’ll never forget it,” he says. “It shook the whole maintenance facility. I thought my mechanic had something up on the lift and it fell off. I ran in there, and he was looking out the window.”
Bindl says his crew at Western Lakes — which has been closed to play since Friday due to cold weather — is down to five members now. Two crew members had been out on the course doing tree work when the plane made its emergency landing.
Bindl says the plane, which had three humans and 53 dogs aboard, missed the maintenance building by only 150 or so yards when it first touched down on a downslope near the No. 5 green. It went through two trees, shearing off its wings, and skidded across
some cattails in a pond between holes No. 2 and 5 before it came to rest between the second and third fairways.
Bindl says he and two of his crew were the first three on the scene.
“When I got there, both doors were open,” he says. “The cargo doors were open; the cockpit was open. The pilots were standing outside. I had called 911 and was still on the phone with them, making sure everyone was OK. That’s when
all the agencies arrived — police, fire, EMS.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the plane was flying 53 rescue dogs from New Orleans to the Waukesha County Airport, which Bindl estimates lies about 2 miles from Western Lakes. The Sentinel reported that the three humans on board were treated
at the scene before being taken to a local trauma center with non-life-threatening injuries.
The pups, too, escaped serious harm.
“One had a few scratches on its nose,” Bindl says. “That’s about it.”
Sally, the rescue puppy Bindl plans to adopt from the 53 rescue dogs aboard the plane.
Bindl and his crew helped round up the dogs and their crates and relocated them to the clubhouse and maintenance facility, where they sheltered from the snow and cold and were assessed by veterinarians. Ultimately, the pooches were taken to their original
destinations — shelters around southeastern Wisconsin that eventually will try to find them forever homes. Several workers from the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha were awaiting their arrival at the airport but quickly relocated to
“We are so grateful to the staff at Western Lakes Golf Club who were wonderful to work with and for the emergency response teams in Waukesha and for our team and how they responded,” HAWS Director of Organizational Development Maggie
Tate-Techtmann told the Sentinel. “Everyone pivoted so well. I tell them all the time to be prepared for the unexpected, and the team did a remarkable job meeting the needs of these dogs today. Some are already out having fun in the snow and
are on the road to finding their forever homes.”
In what might be the happiest spin to a story that could have turned out far more horrifically — “I could have had a couple of dead employees, or it could have wiped out the maintenance facility,” Bindl says — one of those forever
homes will be Bindl’s. His dog died nearly two years ago, and once news of the emergency landing spread, including pictures of Bindl comforting one pup in particular, he wondered if maybe it was a sign. He visited the shelter where that dog
— Sally — landed to see if they were still a match under less-stressful circumstances. On Thursday, Bindl said he was going to return Friday to adopt her formally.
“I talked to my mom (Tuesday) night,” he says. “I’ve been without a dog for two years this coming Valentine’s Day. My mom said, ‘It might be fate. Now they’re dropping out of the sky for you.’”
The area has received several inches of snow, so Bindl says it will be a while before he can assess damage to the course. The plane reportedly dumped some of its 300 gallons of jet fuel onto the course and into a pond. The plane and vicinity are cordoned
off by crime-scene tape — “There were two sheriffs out all night, and they said, ‘If you cross over, you will be arrested,’” Bindl says — and, once the investigation is complete, Bindl will have to coordinate with
the crane that will come on-course to remove the wreckage.
Technically, the course isn’t yet closed for the season, but Bindl is operating as if it won’t reopen until spring.
“My employees are a godsend to me,” he says. “I don’t know if all golf course maintenance crews would do this, but they stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam. Some people from the animal shelter came over this morning (Wednesday)
and gave us big hugs and called us heroes. We were just doing the normal thing — well, not the normal thing; we had to switch gears — but we did what any human would do.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.