Sunday, December 17, 2017

Visual Flight Rules encounter with Instrument Meteorological Conditions: Piper PA-28-180, N6433J; fatal accident occurred December 17, 2017 near Branson West Airport (KFWB), Stone County, Missouri

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Kansas City, Missouri
Piper Aircraft; Vero Beach, Florida
Lycoming aircraft engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Reeds Spring, MO
Accident Number: CEN18FA054
Date & Time: 12/17/2017, 1830 CST
Registration: N6433J
Aircraft: PIPER PA28
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: VFR encounter with IMC
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

On December 17, 2017, about 1830 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180 airplane, N6433J, impacted terrain near Reeds Spring, Missouri. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual, as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal fight. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed near the accident site about the time of the accident, and no flight plan was filed. The cross-country flight departed Gardner Municipal Airport (K34), Gardner, Kansas, about 1700, and was en route to M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport (PLK), Branson, Missouri.

The pilot was not in communication with air traffic control during the accident flight; however, review of radar information revealed a flight track that correlated with the time and location of accident airplane. The airplane approached the Branson area from the north/northwest, making several turns including circles, before the target disappeared from radar near the accident site. While en route, the flight reached a maximum altitude of 2,750 ft mean sea level (msl); however, the flight's average altitude was about 2,500 ft msl. The last several radar returns showed the airplane at an altitude of 2,250 ft msl, 2,125 ft msl, and 2,200 ft msl, with the last radar return at 2,050 ft msl, in altitude, and just east of the accident site. The terrain elevation in the immediate area of the accident site, was about 1,300-1,400 ft. msl. 

Several witnesses reported hearing the airplane overhead or circling before the engine went quiet, followed by the sound of a crash. First responders were notified and responded to the accident site. Both the witnesses and first responders reported the weather about the time of the accident was foggy with poor visibility.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with rating for airplane single-engine land. A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records did not find any information that the pilot held an instrument rating. His most recent third-class FAA medical certificate was issued on February 17, 2017, with the limitation: "shall possess glasses for near/intermediate vision." At the time of the exam, the pilot reported 0 total flight hours and 0 hours in the previous six months. The pilot's logbook was not available for review; however, family members estimated that the pilot had accumulated about 100 total hours of flight time.

The passenger held a student pilot certificate. Her third-class FAA medical certificate was issued on March 16, 2017, with a limitation for corrective lenses.


The accident airplane was a Piper PA-28-180, which is a low-wing, all metal, single-engine airplane with fixed landing gear, powered by a 180-horsepower Lycoming four-cylinder engine, and a fixed-pitch propeller. A review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed the last annual inspection was completed on June 5, 2017, at an airplane tachometer time of 4,550.9 hours and 231.8 hours since engine overhaul. A previous annual inspection, dated September 22, 2012, listed a tachometer time of 4,538.42 hours and a time since engine overhaul of 219.37 hours. A review of FAA records showed that the pilot purchased the airplane on June 10, 2017.


At 1835, the Branson West Municipal Airport – Emerson Field (FWB), Branson, Missouri, automated weather observation station (AWOS), located about 1.5 miles south of the accident site, recorded calm wind, 1/2-mile visibility, 400-ft overcast ceiling, temperature 46°F, dew point 46°F, and an altimeter setting of 30.08 inches of mercury.

At 1845, the Branson Airport (BBG), Branson, Missouri, AWOS, located about 14.7 miles southeast of the accident site, recorded calm wind, 1 3/4-miles visibility with mist, 200-ft overcast ceiling, temperature 45°F, dew point 45°F, and an altimeter setting of 30.08 inches of mercury.

At 1655 (about the time the flight departed from K34), the FWB AWOS recorded calm wind, 1/2-mile visibility and fog, and a 400 ft overcast ceiling. At 1645, the BBG AWOS recorded calm wind, 3/4-mile visibility in mist, and a 200-ft overcast ceiling.

At 1555, (about an hour before departure from K34) the FWB AWOS recorded calm wind, 3/4-mile visibility in mist, and a 300-ft overcast ceiling. At 1545, BBG AWOS recorded calm wind, 3/4-mile visibility in mist, and a 300-ft overcast ceiling.

The National Weather Service Springfield, Missouri Weather Forecast Office is responsible for the Branson area, but does not issue a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) for PLK. The closest TAF to the accident site was issued for BBG.

A terminal aerodrome forecast (TAF) for BBG was issued before the pilot's departure at 1700 and called for light instrument flight rules (LIFR) conditions to prevail with variable wind at 5 knots, 3 miles visibility in mist, and an overcast ceiling at 400 ft above ground level (agl). The two subsequent amendments and the next scheduled TAF also called for LIFR conditions, with visibility deteriorating to 3/4 mile and an overcast ceiling at 300 ft agl.

The NTSB Meteorology Weather Study Report is in the docket for this accident.

There was no record of the pilot obtaining weather briefing. 


PLK is a non-towered, public airport located 1 mile south of Branson, Missouri. The airport has a single asphalt runway oriented 12/30, which is 3,738 ft long by 100 ft wide. Runways 12 and 30 are equipped with RNAV (GPS) instrument approaches.

There are several public airports in the Branson area, including BBG located 6 miles south of PLK, and has an operating control tower and instrument approaches.

FWB is non-towered airport, located 2 miles west of Branson West, Missouri. FWB has RNAV (GPS) instrument approaches to runway 03 and 12


The accident site was located in an open field in a rural neighborhood, about 1.5 miles north of FWB and about 11 miles northwest of PLK.

The on-scene examination of the wreckage and ground scars revealed the airplane impacted terrain in a near-vertical, nose-down attitude. The airplane came to rest near the initial impact point, with the engine and airplane nose buried in a small crater. Several fragments of the airplane were scattered from the impact point and all major components were accounted for at the accident site. There was no evidence of a postcrash fire.

Both wings displayed accordion-type crush damage along their entire span; the main cabin was severely crushed, and the empennage also displayed heavy impact damage. Both wing fuel tanks were breached.

Due to damage, the position of the wing flaps could not be determined; however, the flap cable remained attached to the selector handle. The avionics, instruments, gauges, and cockpit controls were impact-damaged and unreadable. The attitude indicator was removed and examined; the gyro displayed scoring from contact with its housing, consistent with operation at the time of impact.

Left and right wing aileron control cable continuity was established from the aileron bell crank to the chain segment in the cockpit. The chain had separated from the yoke control bar, consistent with overload due to impact forces.

The rudder, stabilator, and pitch trim control cables remained attached to their respective control surfaces and were continuous to the recovery separation cuts. The pitch trim jackscrew was extended about 4-5 threads above the cable drum, consistent with a neutral trim tab position.

The engine sustained impact damage, with the crankshaft broken just aft of the No. 1 main bearing journal, which had separated from the engine. The damage to the crankshaft and camshaft prevented manual engine rotation; a visual inspection of the valve train and the accessory section was conducted. The carburetor was broken from its intake flange. The float bowl and fuel inlet screen were free of contaminants and no pre-impact abnormalities were noted. The carburetor floats exhibited crushing consistent with hydraulic deformation. The oil screen was removed and was clear of contaminants. Both magnetos were impact fragmented. The vacuum pump was removed and disassembled; the internal vanes and rotor were broken, consistent with impact forces.

The top sparkplugs were removed, and the plugs exhibited light colored combustion deposits. The electrodes exhibited normal wear signatures.

The fixed pitch two-bladed propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. Both blades exhibited leading edge gouging and polishing.

Although the examination was limited due to impact damage, no pre-impact abnormalities were noted during the airframe or engine examinations. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 52
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Unknown
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present:
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 02/17/2017
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 100 hours (Total, all aircraft)

Pilot-Rated Passenger Information

Certificate: Student
Age: 45
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Unknown
Other Aircraft Rating(s):
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s):
Second Pilot Present:
Instructor Rating(s):
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 03/16/2017
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: PIPER
Registration: N6433J
Model/Series: PA28 180
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture:
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 28-4851
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 06/05/2017, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 4550.9 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: LYCOMING
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-360 SER
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 180 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument Conditions
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: KFWB
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 0035 UTC
Direction from Accident Site: 360°
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 400 ft agl
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: Calm /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:
Wind Direction:
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:
Altimeter Setting: 30.08 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 8°C / 8°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: Moderate - Fog
Departure Point: Gardner, KS (K34)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Branson, MO (KPLK)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1700 CST
Type of Airspace:

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 36.724722, -93.396111 (est)

Medical And Pathological Information

The Stone County, Missouri, Medical Examiner's Office conducted autopsies on the two occupants. The causes of death were determined to be blunt injuries.

The FAA's Forensic Sciences laboratory at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicological testing on both occupants. The specimens were not tested for carbon monoxide and cyanide. Specimens of the pilot were positive for ethanol in the liver and negative for tested drugs. The passenger tested positive for ethanol in muscle but negative in the brain. The test was also negative for tested drugs.

The levels of ethanol and finding in one tissue, but not another, is consistent with post-mortem production of ethanol.

Keith and Dawn Curtis

BRANSON, Mo. -- On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration spent the day at a crash site outside Branson, trying to determine the cause of a fatal plane crash.

Keith and Dawn Curtis were the only people inside the 1968 Piper Cherokee. The newlyweds married just last month; Keith was a newly-minted pilot, and his wife was training to be one herself.

They departed from the Gardner Municipal Airport Sunday evening, shortly before sundown. They were on their way to a family holiday in Branson.

The aviation community -- especially those who pilot small planes -- is a tight knit one. Keith Curtis and his wife were eager to be a part of it. Keith had his VFR (Visual Flight Rules) rating, and was working on his IFR (Instrument Flight Rules). Dawn was working on getting her license.

At the Gardner Municipal Airport, where Keith and Dawn Curtis departed on their last flight, their first airplane still sits patiently in a hangar. Their black pickup truck still sits in the parking lot.

Keith and Dawn were in their second plane, a 1968 Piper Cherokee. It crashed just before 7 p.m. outside of Branson Sunday night.

“When I saw the color of the airplane in the footage,” Brent Bitikofer recalled, “I knew who it was.”

Bitikofer is a pilot, and runs the maintenance shop at Gardner Municipal Airport, and said all the pilots there knew Keith.

“He wanted to do things,” said Bitikofer Monday afternoon. “I don’t know about dreamer. I think he was a doer. He had an idea and he was going to do it.”

Keith Curtis ran his own company -- KC All American Moving -- from his home on Lake Road One in Gardner. It is a family-owned company.

The family, which had just last month celebrated Dawn and Keith’s marriage, was gathering in Branson for a holiday celebration. That is why the newlyweds flew down Sunday evening.

The family told FOX 4, in a written statement, “They were the type of people that made you happier when you were in their presence. They loved to travel, were adventurous, and loved life, loving it all the more together.”

The family also said “tragedies like this remind all of us that life is precious and short and should be cherished at every turn.”

Story and video ➤

Dawn Curtis

Stone County, Mo.--12/18/2017) The Stone County Sheriff's Department are still working to figure out what caused a small plane crash near Branson that left two people dead.

Investigators are still looking for answers surrounding a deadly plane crash near Branson West Sunday night.

Sheriff Doug Rader is with the Stone County Sheriff’s Department. He tells FOX5,"Around 7 p.m. m we got a call of an airplane that had went down, deputies arrived on scene, located the plane.

According to Rader, the aircraft crashed into a field while attempting to land at Branson West Airport.

"The two subjects that were in the plane were both deceased at that time."

The Stone County Coroner has identified the two people killed in the plane crash as 52 year old Keith Curtis and his wife, 45 year old Dawn Curtis.

Daniel Cataldo witness the accident and he explains," sad. All we can do is pray man. I mean I feel bad for the family."

In the moments after the crash,people near the crash site like Cataldo began to call 911.

"I jumped over that fence to go see if anybody needed some help, but then when I got down there I couldn’t see anything cause it was so foggy that I made it past that second barn down, but I didn’t see anything."

Witness John Higgins says he saw a single engine plane flying low, which was unusual.

"He sounded low, didn’t sound in distressed,but it was low and he circled like twice and then I’m thinking it’s foggy out, I’m thinking this guy is in trouble and then I heard a thump, a loud thump," says Higgins. 

Moments later, he started hearing from friends nearby about a plane crash.

"My heart really goes out to the families of the people that deceased. It’s not what you’d expect."

Neighbors describe concerns with planes coming into the Branson West Airport.

"Since they opened the airport and we’re right under the flight pattern you kind of always worry about some aircraft coming down."

The FAA is investigating the crash. The NTSB will determine the cause of the crash which investigators say could take up to a year. 

Story and video ➤

A 52-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman died Sunday night after a plane crashed in a Stone County field, officials say.

According to a news release from the Stone County Sheriff's Office, Keith M. Curtis and Dawn M. Curtis — both from Gardner, Kansas — were pronounced dead at the scene.

Family members say Keith and Dawn Curtis got married last month, and they were in the Branson area this weekend for vacation.

Sheriff's deputies responded to the scene at 6:45 p.m. Sunday and found a 1968 Piper single-engine aircraft, the release said.

The release said the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to investigate the crash Monday.

The Branson West Airport directed a News-Leader reporter to local law enforcement for information on the crash. It's unclear if the plane was headed to the airport.

Elizabeth Cory, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said a single-engine plane crashed into a field about 1.25 miles north of Branson West Airport.

Cory said both the FAA and the National Traffic Safety Board will be investigating the crash. Investigations normally take several months and can last longer than a year, Cory said.

Dan Cataldo lives near the scene of the crash. 

Cataldo said he heard a loud noise and saw the plane circling around before crashing into the ground.

Story, video and photo gallery ➤

BRANSON, Mo. — A  Gardner, Kan., couple who was recently married died in a plane crash Sunday night near Branson.

Keith Curtis, 52 and Dawn Curtis, 45, were both pronounced dead the the scene. Their plane crashed in the area of Branson West Airport after 6:30 p.m. Sunday. The plane was a 1968 Piper single engine aircraft.

“I kept hearing the plane flying around and it sounded like he was having motor problems,” Martin West told KY3 in Springfield.

“All of the sudden, the motor stopped and I heard a big boom,” neighbor Vicki Morrow reported to KY3.

According to a family member (see full message below), the Curtises were flying to Branson West to begin a four-day pre-Christmas family vacation. They were meeting their parents who are from Belton there.

Authorities do not yet know why the plane went down.

Fox 4’s Rebecca Gannon messaged the family, who released a statement about their loss:

Our hearts are clearly broken as we are all trying to process this tragedy. Dawn Mustain Curtis and Keith Curtis, Sr. Of Garner, Kansas, had just gotten married November 11, 2017 after several years of dating. They were the type of people that made you happier when you were in their presence. They loved to travel, were adventurous, and loved life, loving it all the more together. They frequently traveled to the Springfield and Branson areas via their private plane and had journeyed to Branson West yesterday to begin a four-day, pre Christmas family vacation. Their parents, Norman and Vickey Eagleton, of Belton, Missouri, arrived in Branson yesterday afternoon for that vacation and will remain here until the many details involved can be attended to properly. We would like to thank the Stone and Taney County Sheriff Departments for their compassionate, prompt communication with us, the rescue personnel who responded and the staff at Subway in Hollister, Missouri who stayed way past closing last night to accommodate us in our grief. Also, the witnesses who privately shared their accounts with us nearly immediately through the power of Facebook. Tragedies like this remind all of us that life is precious and short and should be cherished at every turn. We will get through this with the power of faith and the love of family and friends, one day at a time.

-Joyelle Low Buckley, family member

Story and photo ➤

Authorities say a recently-married couple killed in a southwest Missouri plane crash were from Gardner, Kansas.

Stone County Missouri Sheriff Doug Rader on Monday identified the victims as 52-year-old Keith Curtis and 45-year-old Dawn Curtis.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said their Piper PA-28-180 went down Sunday night in a pasture about a mile northwest of the Branson West Municipal Airport.

Relatives said in a statement that the couple was married on Nov. 11 after dating for several years. They were on their way to Branson for a four-day, pre-Christmas family vacation.

The FAA is investigating the cause of the crash.

BRANSON WEST, Mo. (KY3) The Stone County sheriff confirms to KY3 News that two people were killed in a single-engine Piper plane crash near Branson West on Sunday night.

Original reports from authorities listed three victims. However, they later realized that they had mistaken a coat in the plane for another person.

According to the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District, the plane went down in the area of Branson West Airport and Yocom Pond just after 6:30 p.m.

Witnesses who live nearby told KY3 News that they heard the plane flying low to the ground before it crashed.

"All of the sudden, the motor stopped and I heard a big boom," Neighbor Vicki Morrow said.

"I kept hearing the plane flying around and it sounded like he was having motor problems. I told my wife 'It sounds like he is going to crash.' It wasn't but a few seconds later and there was a big 'thump.' It shook the whole floor and the ground and everything and we ran outside and my wife called 911. We went looking for it and there it was over there right in the field," Neighbor Martin West said.

Story and photos ➤


  1. Big loss for the families. Prayers. Sunset was around 5pm. Does anyone see the fog behind the firefighters? Why fly in the dark and fog? Bold will get you killed.

  2. Based on FAA records, he obtained his private pilot license this past Aug. 30 and was not instrument rated. Most likely developed spatial disorientation flying at night and in low visibility and based on the condition of the wreckage probably lost control and spun into the ground at a high rate of speed. So SAD, R.I.P.

  3. I have only been flying 10 years and I am the same age as this poor fellow. I have flown to KFWB on 3 occasions. It is a fairly new airport that occupies a large flat hilltop with other larger hills nearby. No way I would have made that flight even with my instrument rating. This whole accident chain was avoidable. Notice how much better the visibility was as dawn started to break. They would have arrived 12 hours later but they would have arrived. I believe his fate was sealed as soon as night fell. Also, ALWAYS have an escape plan. For you low time pilots out there, contact ATC early, confess your sin and always carry the largest amount of fuel that your weight and balance will allow. Fuel buys you precious time to find VFR conditions. ATC knows where the VMC exists or where the IMC is most forgiving. Lastly, consider buying an airplane with a ballistic parachute like a Cirrus. I have one and it has a 20 year track record of saving lives. If I had found myself in that situation, I would have had one final option that this poor couple sadly did not have.

    RIP Curtises.

  4. Folks, this DOES NOT HAVE TO HAPPEN!! I don't care what anyone or statistics state, driving is MUCH safer than flying these small older aircraft. They are wonderful to train in – day VMC! But very dangerous to operate in at night; when one has limited experience. Please consider the risk. So sorry for this to have happened.

    Just my opinion--

    Flying 40+ years, ATP/CFI 40k hrs+, over 10k hrs dual given--

  5. too many people needlessly die this way...sad to read of another one....

  6. This is very tragic, and happens way to often in my opinion. Single engine, at night and your engine stops. What now? Is
    it worth it?

  7. I agree with the Gentlemen with 4oK hours...he must have been an airline Captain...and those crews fly in almost all weather...flying older single engine equipment at night, even with an instrument rating is hard work and just a bit risky. I own a 67 Cherokee 140, with the non standard panel, and I stay away from even Day IFR, the scan is a just a bit too much for me and I am an ATP/CFII/MEI with also a commercial/INST in Helicopters. Fog is always scary because its clouds at ground level....and even a CAT II ILS may not get you on the centerline safely...I have been a CFI since 1980 and always tell my students to call me anytime they want to take a trip they arent sure of....but usually they dont call. I wish we had a mentor requirement that a pilot cant take a trip unless he/she bounces it off a CFII, for XX hours after their checkride. And like Australia, there should be no night-time unless instrument rated and current.