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Former Bison Heckendorf on plane crashing into house: 'I'm blessed to still be here'

Homeowner Jeff Hille, right, sits with his brother-in-law Kole Heckendorf as they watch a fire destroy their home after a plane crashed into the home at 731 Garden Place in Sauk Rapids. Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times 1 / 2
Firefighters from area departments battle the flames after a small plane crashed into a home at 731 Garden Place in Sauk Rapids, Minn., on Friday. Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times 2 / 2

SAUK RAPIDS, MINN. – It felt like a bomb going off.

Former North Dakota State University wide receiver Kole Heckendorf had just come home from a golf tournament Friday with his brother-in-law Jeff Hille, a former pitcher for the Bison baseball team.

Hille and a friend left Heckendorf alone in the house around 8:15 p.m. The record-breaking wide receiver walked upstairs to his bedroom.

About 15 minutes later, a small plane crashed into the house, knocking Heckendorf off his feet.

At first, Heckendorf suspected some paint thinner he left in the garage had exploded. Then he looked outside and saw the flames.

“I didn’t really have time to do anything,” he said.

Heckendorf jumped out the bedroom’s second-floor window to safety. By that time, his neighbors had arrived at the scene.

“They were just really happy to see me walking from the backyard,” he said.

Others weren’t as lucky. Both people aboard the plane died in the crash, according to Sauk Rapids police. Their names haven’t been released, and the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Heckendorf also lost his dog, Storm. He choked up as he recounted walking to the front of his house to look for him.

“I yelled, but there was no chance,” he said.

Heckendorf, 28, played at NDSU from 2005-08. He holds school records for most yards receiving (2,732) and most receptions (178).

In one of his most memorable games, Heckendorf caught an 80-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds left to beat California Poly 31-28 in 2007.

He and his wife Kristen, who played volleyball for the Bison, planned to move into their own home next week.

Hille’s house was full of furniture for the Heckendorfs’ new place. The crash and resulting fire destroyed all of it.

“Basically, we just watched all our stuff burn,” Kole Heckendorf said. “Everything we own is gone.”

They’re currently staying with Kristen’s parents, who live nearby.

Bison fullbacks and tight ends coach Tyler Roehl, a former Bison teammate of Heckendorf, took to social media late Friday night to ask for donations for the three former players.

Kristen Heckendorf was out of state at the time but has since returned to Minnesota.

“I’m blessed to still be here, that’s for sure,” Kole Heckendorf said.