FESTUS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- An airline pilot and his son were killed Thursday night when their small plane crashed near the Festus Memorial Airport after a mechanical failure.
Authorities haven’t released the names of the father, who was in his mid-50s, and his son, who was in his early 20s.
Festus Memorial Airport Vice President Mike Bippen told News 4 the pilot was very experienced.
"With him being an American Airlines pilot, I mean he's probably got more hours than all of us put together," said Bippen.
According to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, the father and son were returning with a Cessna 150 they had purchased in New York which the son planned to use as he pursued a pilot’s license. At some point in the flight, the plane lost all electrical power.
"If he had lost his whole electrical system he wouldn't be able to see inside the cockpit at night. He wouldn't be able to see what his airspeed is, his elevation, you know the heading,” said Bippen.
Like most small airports, Festus Memorial Airport isn’t staffed 24 hours a day and the lights are turned off at night. Pilots can remotely turn them on by clicking the microphone of their radio six times. But the pilot of the Cessna couldn’t do that because of the mechanical problems.
"He texted his fiancé to respond out here to assist in either getting the lights on for the runway or to use a flashlight to indicate the end of the runway,” said Corporal John Kozel with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.
Kozel said the fiancé went to the airport but couldn’t get the lights on, so she stood at the end of the runway with a flashlight. He said the plane attempted to land but was offline, then crashed as it tried to circle back around for a second attempt.
The plane went down around 10:30 p.m. in a heavily wooded area. During the night, a search was suspended because of the weather but the plane was discovered Friday morning around 7:40 a.m. by a helicopter from Mercy Hospital, which was aiding in the search.
"It's just sad, tragic deal for a nice person and his son to pass this way," said Bippen.
Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration arrived Friday morning and an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board was expected to arrive Friday night or Saturday morning.
Pilot returning from New York with purchased plane. Reportedly lost electric power. Requested fiancé via text to stand at runway with flashlight as muni airport didn’t have lights on. Plane attempted to land. Contact lost. Crash site located. Crime Scene here for investigation.— Sheriff Dave Marshak (@SheriffMarshak) September 21, 2018