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Father, son killed in small aircraft crash; plane had been in family for decades

FESTUS, Mo. – A father and son died Thursday evening in a plane crash near Festus Memorial Airport. They’d just picked up the plane in New York state from a relative. The aircraft had been in the family for several decades.

People at the airport said the father and son planned to refurbish the plane and that the son was going to learn to fly like his father, who was an American Airlines pilot.

The plane crashed around 10:30 p.m. about 300 yards south of the airport runway. Weather forced the police to stop its search overnight.

On Friday morning, the local hospital’s helicopter and a private plane joined in the search. The wreckage was discovered around daybreak.

Mike Bippen, vice-president of the organization that operates the airport, said he knows the pilot and doubts the crash was his fault.

“His experience – I find it very, very unlikely operator error,” he said.

Bippen said the plot was a good man.

“Very family-oriented,” he said. “He loved his boys.”

The pilot reported electrical problems and because of that, it’s believed he wasn’t able to turn runway lights on remotely like most pilots are able to do. He texted his fiancé on the ground for help.

“She went to the end of the runway with a flashlight and attempted to flag him in,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Deputy Corporal John Kozel.

The deputy said the plane made one pass and began to circle when it crashed in a wooded area.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA launched a joint investigation. It will be a challenging job removing the wreckage.

“I don’t know how they’re going to recover it; if they’re going to take it apart to get it out of there, I don’t know,” Kozel said.

Typically, it takes anywhere from five to 10 days for the NTSB to release a preliminary cause and a year or more for the final report.

“It’s just sad; tragic deal for a nice person and his son,” Bippen said.

The pilot was described as being in his mid-50s and his son early 20s.

An older plane, even 50 years or older, can be maintained and remain airworthy.