RED LAKE, Ontario (WCCO) — The Ontario Provincial Police say that Jim Kowalski died Thursday after falling into a rotating plane propeller while on a fishing trip in Canada.
The incident happened at about 10:30 a.m. on Thursday in Red Lake, Ontario.
Kowalski, 67, founded Kowalski’s Markets back in 1983. He was on the trip with a friend.
Police in Ontario say that Kowalski was injured while attempting to bring the Cessna amphibian plane onto the shoreline of Dee Dee Lake. Authorities added that “the post mortem has been completed and the cause of death has been deemed not suspicious.”
Kowalski was standing outside the plane atop the floats as the plane made its approach. Police say Kowalski lost his balance when the plane reached the shore. He fell off the floats and into the propeller, which was still running.
He was taken to the Red Lake Airport by plane, but died of his injuries.
Surfside Seaplane Base in Lino Lakes is run by Bruce Hanson, who’s given many pilots their float ratings. He said he finds it hard to believe that Kowalski could have made such a fatal error. Kowalski was a licensed pilot.
“The cardinal rule is you never go forward of the strut,” he said. “That strut is your lifeline — if you’re out, you want to hang onto that and never go forward of that.”
A strut connects the overhead wing to the airplane’s fuselage, and on a float plane it acts as a physical barrier between a person and the forward propeller. A propeller can spin at more than 800 revolutions per minute.
Kowalski and his wife, Mary Anne, co-owned what later became a chain of nine stores that employs nearly 1,200 people.
According to the company website, Jim and Mary Anne Kowalski have both received the highest honors in the industry; Jim as Minnesota Grocer of the Year and Mary Anne as the National Grocers Association Woman of the Year.
Just this week, staffers said stores were preparing for a celebration marking 30 years in business.
St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman shared his condolences on Thursday, saying: “Jim left a lasting legacy in St. Paul and across the metro area. His passing is tragic and my heart goes out to his family.”
The Kowalski Facebook stated: “The Kowalski family and the entire staff would like to thank everyone for their kind words and support. This means so much to the family and everyone at Kowalski’s Markets. Jim will always be remembered and his legacy will live on in his stores and in our hearts.”