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Small plane crashes near Festus airport

A small plane crashed near the Festus airport, as shown in this KTVI photo from Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.

JEFFERSON COUNTY • A father and his adult son were killed in a plane crash near Festus after electrical problems made it hard for him to see the runway, authorities said Friday morning.

Before trying to land, the pilot even texted his fiancée and asked her to stand with flashlights on the runway so he could see where he was going, police say.

The single-engine Cessna 150 crashed about 200 to 300 yards from the runway, said Mike Bippen, vice president of CAEE, which runs the airport.

There were no survivors, he said.

The names of the dead haven’t been released. The father was in his 50s and an American Airlines pilot from the Jefferson County area. His son was in his 20s, Bippen said.

The father and son were bringing a plane back from New York. They planned to refurbish it in Festus, where they had a hangar.

Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak said the pilot had reported electrical issues Thursday night. Authorities had been searching for the plane for several hours when they found the wreckage before 8 a.m. Friday.

Marshak said the pilot’s fiancée called police at 2 a.m. Friday. The pilot had contacted her from the plane when he was having electrical problems. Marshak said lights at the airport are not on throughout the evening, but pilots can activate something on their radios to turn the lights on once they get close. Without power, the pilot could not activate the lights.

He asked the woman to stand at the end of the runway with a flashlight so he could try to see where to go, the sheriff said. The man and woman were texting back and forth, Marshak said.

Police tried to get a helicopter in the air for a search but rain hampered that effort. They began a ground search Friday morning. On the south end of the airport, they found the plane in woods near Joachim Creek.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

Bippen, the airport executive, said the father was an experienced pilot for American Airlines. “So he had plenty of hours of flying,” Bippen said.

Bippen said most small airports like the one in Festus have a system where the pilots activate the runway lights by clicking their mic six times. “His plane was having electrical issues, which would mean he probably had no lights on his plane and couldn’t see his instruments,” Bippen said. “We don’t know if he tried to land.”

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Kim Bell is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Christine Byers is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.