"I'm a small school guy and he was the same — phenomenal work ethic, phenomenal loyalty to the coaching staff and his teammates," Stiegelmeier said. "Whatever you asked D.J. to do, he did it, with a smile on his face, too. He didn't hesitate."
Mimms said the three cattlemen noted that they had a rough flight down to Texas due to high winds, and conditions were similar in Hereford when they left Sunday morning.
"They made it through the windy weather, and the fog was the problem when they got there," he said.
The wreckage was found Monday at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center, a site south of Highmore with 27 turbines that are about 213 feet tall, plus the length of the blade.
Steve Stengel, a spokesman with Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., said there was damage to a turbine but he couldn't say what part of the tower was hit.
"It's been so foggy up there and we haven't had a chance to investigate," Stengel said Monday.
Fog and low clouds combined for reduced visibility in the Highmore area on Sunday night, and winds were out of the east at about 15 to 25 mph, said Renee Wise, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen. There were also scattered showers across region Sunday night, and some might have been heavy at times, she said.
Mimms, said the news has sent shock and sadness through the close-knit ranching community.
"There are a lot of people out there who feel like they lost one of their best friends," Mimms said.
Similar conditions contributed to a 2008 crash in southeast Minnesota. Federal investigators concluded the pilot of a 1948 Cessna 140 lacked proper instrument training for the day's foul weather. The National Transportation Safety Board's probable cause report also noted the pilot's failure to maintain control of the airplane while maneuvering around a wind farm.
Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ddlammers
AP writer Carson Walker in Sioux Falls and researcher Judy Ausuebel in New York contributed to this story.