HERMANTOWN, Minn. — Jason Hoffman woke to a "thunderous boom" just before midnight Saturday — airplane parts at the foot of the bed, a stairway gone and the entire back side blown off his home.
He and his wife, Crystal, struggled to breathe through the thick dust of insulation.
A single-engine plane that just minutes before had left Duluth International Airport en route to South St. Paul crashed into the house on Arrowhead Road, killing pilot Tyler Fretland, 32, of Burnsville, and siblings Alyssa Schmidt, 32, of St. Paul, and Matthew Schmidt, 31, of Burnsville. The trio flew into Duluth on Friday and went to a wedding on Saturday before leaving late that night, according to authorities.
Both homeowners have just minor scrapes — on Jason's calf, Crystal's foot — and they were able to locate their diabetic cat Zuzu, who was safely hidden in the basement.
"The reality is setting in more than it was when it first all happened," Jason Hoffman said, holding a pair of boots and two photo albums he had just grabbed from the house. "By far, losing the house, all that stuff does not compare even a little bit to the loss of life. Three individuals lost their life in my backyard."
Alyssa Schmidt taught second grade at the Echo Park Elementary School of Leadership, Engineering and Technology in Burnsville. Both she and her brother Matt graduated from Apple Valley High School.
Alyssa Schmidt began working in the district as a kindergarten teacher in 2014 before moving to teach third grade in 2020. She began teaching second grade this year.
Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district spokesman Tony Taschner said Echo Park Elementary will have counselors and support staff available for students and families.
"We are deeply saddened over the tragic loss of three lives, including an incredibly talented young teacher who positively impacted students every day," Taschner said in an email. "Principal Logan Schultz said Alyssa led and taught with love, care and selflessness."
Fretland had flown the Cessna 172 Skyhawk from South St. Paul to Duluthon Saturday morning without incident, according to the flight tracking website Flightaware.com. But as Fretland and his passengers set off to return to the Twin Cities, something went drastically wrong.
The plane reached an altitude of 2,300 feet about four minutes into the flight before it crashed just before midnight, the website said. The plane, whose registered owner is Svetfur Aviation of Camden, S.C., went down under "unknown circumstances" the FAA said.
Fretland, 32, of Burnsville, held a commercial pilot's license that was issued in July 2021, and he was certified in 2022 as a single-engine flight instructor, according to the FAA. Fretland also was a certified flight instructor for Air Trek North, a flight school based at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, according to his Facebook page.
On his Twitter account, Fretland described himself as an aviation lover, adrenaline enthusiast, cloud seeker and flight instructor.
Fretland grew up in Williston, N.D., and studied sociology at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., before earning a bachelor's degree in the discipline from North Dakota State University in 2012.
He worked in the aviation industry since 2013, most recently as an airline support mechanic for Delta Air Lines, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Arrowhead Road, a high-traffic street in this city of 10,000, has become far busier since the crash, according to the city's communications director, Joe Wicklund, with people driving by to look at the house. Wicklund wore a bright construction vest on Monday and hurried along vehicles that slowed as they passed.
Aaron McCarter, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, was at the scene on Monday afternoon as crews gathered pieces of the plane from the yard. It will be studied to determine whether there was a mechanical malfunction, he said.
McCarter described the crash, a direct hit on the Hoffmans' home, as having high-energy impact. Sections of the plane were found 150 feet from the crash site, with pieces in the yard and the fuselage against a barnlike structure on the property.
He expects to have an initial report done within two weeks, but more in-depth findings will take nearly a year.
The two-story brick home is one of more than 80 like it in this area built in the mid-1930s as part of the Jackson Project — modest homes with land for gardening and raising farm animals.
It was a dream house for the high school sweethearts who moved in six years ago.
"We're grateful" to be alive, Jason Hoffman said. "Every day is going to be a little different now."
Star Tribune writers Tim Harlow and Eder Campuzano contributed to this report.