Jim Kowalski, the founder of the chain of Kowalski's Markets in Minnesota and who was thought to have died in a plane crash, actually was killed Thursday when he fell into a spinning plane propeller during a fishing trip in Canada.
The incident occurred at about 10:30 a.m. local time in Red Lake, Ontario, where the 67-year-old Kowalski had gone fishing with a friend. Police confirmed that Kowalski had been standing on the plane's floats as it approached the shore. He lost his balance when it reached its destination, landing on the still-rotating propeller, according to CBS Minnesota.
An autopsy was scheduled for Friday morning.
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The friend who accompanied Kowalski told family spokesperson Deb Kowalski that he "heard a noise, and [Kowalski] was gone."
Kowalski and his wife Mary Anne bought a struggling Red Owl Supermarket store in 1983, and turned it around by selling more upscale goods, with an emphasis on products made by local merchants as well as healthier offerings. Over the next 25 years, the company had spread to nine locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
The company remains family-owned and operated.
"We are in a state of shock and sadness," Tres Lund, CEO of Lunds and Byerly's, a rival of Kowalski's, said in a statement. "Jim was a great businessman and merchant, and he is going to be deeply missed by everyone who was fortunate to know him."
The Kowalski's chain employs nearly 1,200 people, according to CBS Minnesota. The business has earned them numerous awards, including multiple employer of the year honors. In 2011, Jim and Mary Anne Kowalski were cited as the nation's outstanding independent community-based retailer by Progressive Grocer. They were also recognized as the Family Business of the Year in 2011 by the University of St. Thomas's Opus College of Business.
"Despite a relatively small footprint, Kowalski's offered consumers choices, particularly local ones, in a format that was warm and friendly," Matt Kramer, CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, wrote on the company's website. "[Jim's] engagement with the community brought to mind a rural grocery in the heart of a small town."
Area musician Tim Mahoney spoke of his grief on Twitter.
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