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      Monroe plane crash victims identified

      Rick Howell, Pilot of Crashed Plane, Owner of Conforming Matrix Corp

      The three people killed in Tuesday's plane crash in Monroe, Michigan have been identified. The pilot was Rick Howell of LaSalle, and the passengers were Nathan Brahier and Jeremy Tate of Fremont.

      The trio were returning home from a business trip when their single engine plane went down around 4:00 p.m. in Munson Park near Custer Airport, just over the Ohio state line in Michigan. The park is located at 2770 North Custer Road in Monroe.

      Howell was the owner of Conforming Matrix Corp, a small auto-parts manufacturer on Suder Avenue in Toledo. Tate and Brahier were workers for the company.

      "We were leaving the neighborhood and we saw just this huge column of black smoke going into the sky and we had figured a house fire or something. The last thing we would think is that it was a plane crash. That doesn't happen around here too often even though there's an airport right there," said Andrew Kramer.

      An online tracking service says the plane was scheduled to arrive at Custer Airport at about 4:00 p.m. but something obviously went wrong.

      The plane is registered to Monroe-based Triple F Aviation. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the scene.

      Many have already deemed the pilot a "hero" as they say he purposely avoided a group of kids gathered on the nearby tennis courts.

      "And they play soccer all the way around here. They're cramming these teams in here and it's just amazing that somebody didn't get hurt. And then you've got people walking the perimeter of this park constantly," said Michelle Mang.

      Conforming Matrix released this statement Wednesday:

      "We at Conforming Matrix are deeply saddened to confirm that three (3) beloved members of our company family perished in a tragic accident on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Rick Howell, Jeremy Tate, and Nathan Brahier were traveling back from a business trip when the plane they were traveling on crashed in Monroe, Michigan. Collectively, we offer our sincerest condolences to Rick's, Jeremy's, and Nathan's families. There are no words that can adequately express the depth of our sorrow. These individuals were each exceptional people and will be deeply missed. At this difficult time, we ask that everyone keep the families in their thoughts and prayers, and to please continue to offer their support and sympathy.

      We also ask that members of the news media respect the privacy of all those that are grieving."

      NBC24 will continue to follow the latest in the investigation of the crash.