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Jim Kowalski's death shrouded in mystery [UPDATE]

Jim Kowalski
Jim Kowalski

-- Update at bottom --

Here's what we know: Yesterday, Jim Kowalski, the man who founded Kowalski's Markets with his wife 30 years ago, died during a fishing trip in a remote portion of Ontario.

SEE ALSO: In Minnesota, most Missed Connections happen at the grocery store [MAP]

But a day later, the circumstances of his death remain unclear.

Reports indicate that Kowalski, a registered pilot, died in an accident aboard a private plane. He was joined on his fishing trip by a longtime friend and fellow pilot who wasn't hurt during the accident that took Jim's life.

"It was not a crash," family spokeswoman Deb Kowalski told the Pioneer Press, "and we don't exactly know how it happened."

Deb Kowalski said Jim's friend "heard a noise, and he was gone." WCCO, citing a conversation with Deb, reports that Jim "suffered a head injury."

A Star Tribune report provides a bit more detail:

A report late Thursday night from Ontario Provincial Police indicated Kowalski was outside the Cessna float plane as it was taxiing to shore on an isolated lake, about 20 miles south of the town of Red Lake and nearly 300 miles northwest of Thunder Bay. The investigation is ongoing and the cause of death hasn't been determined, Ontario Provincial Constable David Lamme said.

He said Ontario police in Red Lake were called to the remote lake at 10:30 a.m. on a report that a man had been injured. By the time police arrived, Kowalski had been flown to the Red Lake airport, where paramedics were waiting. But Lemme said Kowalski was dead when he arrived.

MPR blogger Bob Collins, a pilot in his own right, put forth this theory on Twitter last night:

A head injury in a plane accident usually means someone walked into a propeller. Don't know if that's what happened in Canada.

Regardless of the circumstances of his death, Kowalski, 67, leaves behind an impressive legacy. From a single grocery on Grand Avenue that he purchased with his wife Mary Anne back in 1983, Kowalski's Markets grew into a respected chain of nine metro stores that employ well over 1,000 people.

Kowalski's was ahead of the curve in areas such as offering locally produced products and prepared foods that allow people like me who can't cook to take home hot meals. Jim has been honored as Minnesota Grocer of the Year while Mary Anne has been recognized as the National Grocers Association Woman of the Year, according to the company's website.

As news of yesterday's tragedy spread, even competitors such as Tres Lund, CEO of Lunds and Beyerly's, had nothing but glowing things to say about Jim.

"Jim was a great businessman and merchant, and he is going to be missed by everyone who was fortunate to know him," Lund said, according to a Fox 9 report.

In a WCCO report, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman characterized Jim's death as "tragic" and said the grocer "left a lasting legacy in St. Paul and across the metro area."

:::: UPDATE ::::

KSTP, citing authorities, reports that Kowalski died when he fell into his plane's propeller.

From KSTP:

The Ontario Provincial Police Red Lake Branch says Kowalski was standing on the float of the plane, which was taxiing slowly toward the shore, when he lost his balance and fell into the propeller.

Kowalski was airlifted to the Red Lake airport, where he died.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


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