Monday, September 27, 2021

Beechcraft S35 Bonanza, N354M: Fatal accident occurred September 26, 2021 in Billings, Montana

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

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

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Helena, Montana
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas 

Mission Aviation LLC

Location: Billings, MT 
Accident Number: WPR21FA353
Date & Time: September 26, 2021, 19:22 Local
Registration: N354M
Aircraft: Beech S35 
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On September 26, 2021, about 1922 mountain daylight time, a Beech S35 airplane, N354M, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Billings, Montana. The pilot was seriously injured, and 2 passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

Witnesses located near the accident site observed the airplane on final for the runway, landing to the northeast. Two witnesses described that the airplane appeared to be slightly high and fast while on final and that it had floated down the runway before touchdown. While both witnesses reported that the airplane landed hard, one witness elaborated that the left wing appeared to have stalled, and the airplane landed hard on the left main landing gear first.

The witnesses further stated that the airplane began to “wobble” and depart the left side of the runway, followed by an increase in engine power. One witness stated that the airplane accelerated through the field in a nose high attitude, and that it appeared to do a “duck waddle.” The witness said the airplane appeared to be powered as the left wingtip drug across the ground about halfway through the go around attempt. Subsequently the airplane impacted trees in a nose high attitude, and a post impact fire ensued.

Examination of the accident site revealed the airplane came to rest within a tree line about 450 ft north of the runway, and about 1,938 ft northeast of the approach end the runway. All major structural components of the airplane were located within 40 ft of the main wreckage. The center section of the fuselage and inboard portions of each wing were mostly consumed by fire.

Examination of the runway revealed that the first identified point of contact was a tire mark, consistent with the left main landing gear, about 882 ft beyond the approach end of the runway. An additional mark, consistent with the right main landing gear was observed about 924 ft beyond the approach end of the runway. Both tire material transfer marks progressed toward the left side of the runway, where they exited the runway surface approximately 1,098 ft beyond the approach end of the runway, as seen in figure 1.

A ground scar, about 60 ft in length, and consistent with the left wing, was located about 1,500 ft beyond the approach end of the runway and 91 ft left of the runway edge. Additional ground scars, consistent with the main landing gear, was observed about 68 ft beyond the end of the left-wing ground scar and arced toward the main wreckage to the north as depicted in figure 2. 

The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Beech
Registration: N354M
Model/Series: S35
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Dusk
Observation Facility, Elevation: KBIL,3570 ft msl 
Observation Time: 19:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 6 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C /-5°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 4 knots / , 140°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.82 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: 
Destination: Billings, MT 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 45.715875,-108.57725

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.

On September 26, 2021, Rob Stephens, 56, along with Pam, his beloved wife of 30 years, tragically lost their lives in an aircraft accident south of Billings, MT.

Rob was born on September 8, 1965, to parents Rob and Zena Stephens in Edmonds, Washington. After Rob Sr. graduated from law school the family moved back to Montana and settled south of Billings on Blue Creek. Rob grew up alongside his cousins, the Blains, cruising on motorcycles, swimming in the mud pit, floating the Yellowstone River without life jackets, raising baby skunks, training pet raccoons, hunting, working on his grandfather's cattle ranch, fly fishing, driving tractors, working heavy machinery, flying airplanes, and, thanks to more than occasional lapses of adult supervision, participating in all manners of mischief and mayhem. In retrospect, Rob liked to say that he grew up a little feral. These were the glory days of Rob's childhood which, though not absent of pain or hardship, shaped him into the man he came to be.

Rob caught the aviation bug early on from his 13-year-old cousin, Gary, who began teaching Rob to fly in a Piper Super Cub when Rob was only about 10 or 11 years old. Rob soloed for the first time at the advanced age of 12. These flying days along the Yellowstone with his cousins ignited a lifelong passion for aviation in Rob, and his many hours of working with his grandfather, Almon Walborn, on the Mission Ranch at the base of the Absaroka mountains near Livingston instilled in Rob a strong work ethic, a deep love for the big sky country, and a wild zest for life.

Rob had a wonderful sense of adventure. He was always dreaming of the next big opportunity or looking for ways to improve the ones he had. He was fun, playful, and exhibited a boyish enthusiasm at the prospect of any new quest, like moving his family to Montana each summer for 5 years so his children could experience the joy of country living, or whisking his dad off to Alaska for a 3-day salmon fishing trip with little to no planning. He was never put off by a set-back, never deterred by defeat, but always ready to rally and revise his plans as necessary. When faced with a problem, Rob never gave up. He exhausted every resource he had to resolve the issue himself. He believed in the value of hard work, determination, persistence, and faith, attributes he often accredited to the male influences in his life, not only his father, but also men like Uncle Gerhart, Grandpa Walborn, and his stepfather, Ralph Wright. These traits served him well throughout his life, perhaps especially in pursuit of the love of his life, Pam, whom Rob had met during Trigonometry at Senior High School at the beginning of his sophomore year. While Rob was completely smitten at first sight, Pam was reticent, resisting Rob's charms all the way through college, determined to chase her own career aspirations, which took her to Washington DC.

Meanwhile, Rob graduated from MSU with a bachelor's degree in finance and began his aviation career. He started out, as most professional pilots do, as a flight instructor. He worked for his Uncle Gerhart crop dusting for a summer and then worked his way into an air cargo company. He used to recall that he walked into the office after being denied the job to ask if he could simply sit in on the training process for free, so that when a position opened up, he would be ahead of the game. The owner was so impressed, he hired Rob on the spot. He was hired by Rocky Mountain Airways in 1989, a company contracted to Continental Express where he received a Continental Airlines seniority number, a very important milestone in the airline industry. In 1994, Rob was hired onto Continental Airlines as a Flight Engineer on the B727. His career was not linear. However, he proved highly adept at navigating the complexities of a career with the airlines. Later, Rob took a leave of absence from Continental, got picked up by UPS, hated the schedule, quit, then got hired by Delta Airlines in the mid-90s. He eventually realized this schedule would not work for him either-long trips and commuting were keeping him from his family, which Rob could not accept. He left Delta and returned to Continental in the late 90s where he flew as a First Officer and then a Captain on the B737 for most of his career. He stayed at Continental, now United, keeping his job through catastrophic industry setbacks like 9/11 and the 2008 Recession. Rob took great pride in his career and ability as an aviator. He always stood a bit higher, shoulders back and chest out, when he left the house for the airport in uniform. He was confident but humble in his abilities. He once said, "I am good at what I do but lots of others are better, even if in one different way. And so, I know I have to keep trying. And that's part of the fun."

Early in his career, while Pam was visiting home in Billings (with her current boyfriend no less), Rob showed up like a whirlwind early in the morning, knocked on her door, and asked her to breakfast where he brazenly proposed marriage. Pam, shocked and maybe a bit more impressed than she'd admit, reminded Rob that her boyfriend was back at her dad's house to which Rob tactfully replied, "dump him.' And that's what she did. A while later, after some time dating and figuring out their careers, Rob proposed in the airport terminal at the end of one of his trips. He handed each passenger a rose and instructed them each to walk out, find the "beautiful blonde in the terminal," and hand their flower to her. They all did. Rob was the last man to come off the jet bridge, and he brought her a ring. The two were married at Faith Evangelical Church in Billings on August 24, 1991.

With the woman of his dreams by his side, Rob's career took the couple to Denver, where their eldest son, Steele, was born. They moved to Houston soon after, where they had Riley and Piper. They raised all three children in Houston, where Rob and Pam became staple members of the community. They developed many meaningful friendships there that endure to this day.

In 2015, after 16 years in Houston, Rob and Pam decided to return to their home state. They moved back to Billings and quickly became deeply woven into the fabric of the community. Rob and Pam were active members of Harvest Church and the Townsend Leadership Program. Rob also became deeply invested in Mission Aviation, a flight school that he launched with his sons Steele and Riley. They taught many Billings natives how to fly and introduced them to the family's passion for aviation.

No matter where Rob lived or what he was doing, he looked for opportunities to share his faith. Rob committed himself to Christ in his early teens. His unwavering faith was the cornerstone of his life, and he shared it freely with anyone who would listen. He had a commitment to personal growth that enabled him to connect with friends in the corners of their hearts, to see and comfort the hurt and heartache that we all endure, and to leave those he encountered with a sense of being known and understood. He was quick to ask and to listen. He had a clever, witty and wicked sense of humor. He was intelligent and larger than life. Aspects of his personality were influenced heavily by John Wayne and characters in Louis Lamour novels. He was an outlaw intellectual with some of the strongest opinions a man can have, and he wasn't afraid to share them. He loved a good argument, and never ran from a fight. He adored his dog, Nala, who followed Rob everywhere he went. From his mother, Rob inherited a great gift for storytelling, and from his father, an unparalleled gift for debate. No one wanted to go up against Rob if he was on the opposite side of an issue. He was truly a force to be reckoned with.

Of all Rob's attributes, perhaps his greatest was his devotion to his family. Pam, Steele, Riley, and Piper were his whole world. There was nothing he wouldn't do for his children. Rob was a champion for them, unwavering in his love, and was immensely proud of the young adults they had become.

Rob is preceded in death by his mother Zena Wright Ensign, stepfather Ralph Wright, grandparents Almon and Florence Walborn and Bob and Dell Stephens. He is survived by his three children, Steele (Megan), Riley and Piper, his father Rob Stephens Sr., his sister Darcy LaBeau and her three children Peyton, Ben and Olivia, his sister Zena Dell Lowe, his father-in-law Bill Paterson, his brothers-in-law Rob (Kristi) Paterson and their three children Gabby, Parker, and Dakota, Eric Paterson and his daughter Danika, and his stepbrother Sean (Svenja) Wright and their two sons Evan and Ewan.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating in remembrance of Rob and Pam Stephens to The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. The Team Riley Fundraising page can be accessed here:

A celebration of life will take place Saturday, Oct. 9th at Harvest Church in Billings, MT at 2pm MDT, and livestreamed to Faithbridge Church in Spring, TX at 3pm CDT. Reception to follow at Gary Blain's hangar 6309 Jellison Rd, Billings, MT.

Bring your best story.

On Sunday, September 26, 2021, Pam Stephens, along with her husband of 30 years, Rob, died tragically in an airplane accident at a private airstrip outside of Billings, MT. Pam was 56 years old.

Pam was born on June 24, 1965, to her mother Judy and her biological father, Tom Hawkins. Later, her mother married Bill Paterson, who adopted Pam as his daughter when she was six and raised her as his own.

Pam began grade school in Absarokee before moving to Columbus for three years. Her family finally settled in Billings in Spring 1974 where she attended Meadowlark Elementary, Lincoln Jr. High, and Billings Senior High School. Pam was a loyal and loving big sister to her half-brothers Bobby and Eric. Her attentive, dutiful, and sincere personality made her almost a surrogate mother to her little brothers, despite some sisterly mischief she regularly pulled on them. Her middle brother, Bobby, often recalls she would play dead if he refused to grab her a glass of water from the kitchen during her favorite T.V. shows. In a panic, he would run to get her what she needed, and his efforts always revived her. During her childhood, Bill worked to instill his love for the scenic Northwest in Pam. Trips to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, hiking, fishing, camping and backpacking developed Pam into a somewhat begrudging young outdoorswoman. She used to recall that she would be hiking up a particularly steep grade, and her dad and two brothers would just sit and wait patiently at the top for her to come up huffing and puffing behind them before taking off for the next frustrating false horizon. Bill took Pam and her brothers all across the West during her childhood. She saw the Grand Tetons, the Bryce Canyon Lands, the Grand Canyon, Dixie National Forest, and Zion. These experiences impacted Pam in many ways, namely her appreciation and awe for God's intricate and beautiful creation.

Pam met the man who would become her husband during her sophomore year of high school in trigonometry. Rob was anything but a rule follower. He was a dreamer; a visionary; full of excitement – qualities that terrified Pam at first. Still, the two became close friends, dating off and on throughout high school and college. As she focused on her own career aspirations, graduating from MSU with a degree in finance, life took her all the way to Washington DC to a job at her Uncle Barry's company as a financial analyst at which she excelled, despite what she may have admitted. And Rob continued his steadfast pursuit of her. One day, while Pam was visiting home in Billings, with her current boyfriend no less, Rob showed up like a whirlwind early in the morning, knocked on her door, and asked her to breakfast where he brazenly proposed marriage. Pam, shocked and maybe a bit more impressed than she'd admit, reminded Rob that her boyfriend was back at her dad's house to which Rob tactfully replied, "dump him.' And that's what she did. A while later, after some time dating and figuring out their careers, Rob officially proposed in the airport terminal at the end of one of his trips. He handed each passenger a rose and instructed them each to walk out, find the "beautiful blonde in the terminal" and hand their flower to her. They all did. Rob was the last man to come off the jet bridge, and he brought her a ring. The two were married at Faith Evangelical Church in Billings on August 24, 1991.

Pam once commented that being married to Rob was the greatest adventure of her life. Together, they added three wonderful children to the journey, Steele, Riley and Piper, to whom Pam was a constant and devoted mother. Whenever Rob's aviation career landed them somewhere new, whether it be Denver, Houston or Billings, Pam was there to help establish the family's roots. She was an incredible mother, who saw her role as the most important calling that God could give her. She sought tirelessly to do it well, seeking counsel and wisdom when necessary, and relying on God to sustain her with childlike faith. No matter what she faced, Pam exuded a deep and quiet strength, a quality she exhibited in spades the summer her mother-in-law Zena passed away, with whom Pam was close, and then again, a few months later when her own mother passed. In all circumstances, Pam had a calm and peaceful demeanor that made everyone around her feel safe. She had a beautiful and melodic laugh that brightened every single room lucky enough to hear it. She put everyone at ease. She was always caring, warm, gentle, polite – a portrait of grace, and a true lady.

One of the most difficult decisions that Pam and Rob faced as a couple was whether to return to Montana. Their sixteen years in Houston had forged deep and intimate friendships that Pam was reticent to leave behind. Nevertheless, she chose to embrace the next big adventure, relocating with Rob to their hometown of Billings in 2015. Here, Pam forged deep and meaningful relationships with family and friends, old and new, and paved the way for a smooth transition for her children. She began the Townsend Leadership Program in 2020 in pursuit of challenging personal growth. Here, she faced hurt and hardship that had followed her for a lifetime and began to overcome, which opened a new chapter of peace, self-acceptance, and self-confidence. As she neared the end of her life, she blossomed like a wildflower.

In truth, anyone who knew Pam couldn't help but to love her and she loved them back. But her children were her true heart's delight. She loved them ferociously, like a mother bear. She will be missed by all, but especially by Steele, Riley and Piper.

Pam is preceded in death by her mother Judy, her biological father Tom Hawkins, her mother-in-law Zena, and her grandparents Mavis Anderson and Ruth and Robert Paterson. She is survived by her children Steele (Megan), Riley and Piper, father Bill Paterson, brother Bobby (Kristi) and his children Gabby, Parker, and Dakota, brother Eric and his daughter Danika, father-in-law Rob Stephens Sr., sister-in-law Darcy LaBeau and her children, Peyton, Benjamin and Olivia, sister-in-law Zena Dell Lowe, and many other dear family and friends.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating in remembrance of Rob and Pam Stephens to The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. The Team Riley Fundraising page can be accessed here:

A celebration of life will take place Saturday, Oct. 9th at Harvest Church in Billings, MT at 2pm MDT, and livestreamed to Faithbridge Church in Spring, TX at 3pm CDT. Reception to follow at Gary Blain's hangar 6309 Jellison Rd, Billings, MT.

Bring your best story.

Riley Stephens, the Montana man who survived a plane crash that killed his parents on September 26, 2021 is continuing to fight in the hospital. In the days following the fatal crash, Riley has undergone multiple surgeries for his burns, which covered 70 percent of his body.



    1. News reports crash location near Jellison Road and Stratton Road, south of town. Billings Flying Service's Blain Airstrip is adjacent.,+Montana+59101/@45.7126839,-108.5763235,533m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x53486244af656d2d:0xe02110747d77994b!8m2!3d45.7126839!4d-108.5741348

    2. Billings Flying Service's Blain Airstrip is 63MT:

  2. Unlit private strip, 30 minutes after sundown.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Possibly a failed emergency divert attempt responding to trouble while returning to home field at Laurel Municipal Airport. They knew the area well enough to try for 63MT.

      Played the archives for Billings tower and approach in the time period but haven't found anything. Tricky to get the date and time aligned, since 01:30:00Z on Sunday evening is actually UTC calendar day 27...

    3. Could be they were landing there because that is where their cars were parked......

    4. Cars would have been parked at Laurel Municipal Airport K6S8 where they hangared the plane and operated their flight school business.

    5. Bonanza was not part of the flight school...Was hangered at 63MT. Hence, their cars were there.

    6. Surprised to hear that the Bo was hangared at Blain's. Would not have expected that based on ADS-B tracks in/out of Laurel:

  3. :-( wish there was a flight track on it so we could possibly learn what happened.

    1. Checked archive K6S8 AWOS to see what wind direction was at home base airport Laurel Municipal in hopes of at least determining whether they would likely have passed over Blain on approach, but uncertain which K6S8 runway they would have been heading for:

      K6S8 270040Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM 28/M03 A2981
      K6S8 270055Z AUTO 01004KT 10SM 26/M04 A2981
      K6S8 270110Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM 25/M04 A2981
      K6S8 270125Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM 27/M04 A2981

      Laurel Municipal:

      Archive AWOS:

  4. Long day of flying for the pilot, 41/2 hours one leg .. hour break and back up flying for another hour. Fatigue is a killer for pilots, especially us older guys. Checklist items get missed, terrain awareness may not be as sharp.
    Hard to pin point what happened to this pilot to cause his demise. What can be offered are the simple words Rest In Peace.

  5. I was with the owner 8 days before the accident to inspect and discuss purchase arrangements of N354M. I have provided the NTSB digital copies of all the logbooks. RIP Rob and Pam, and praying for a full recovery for Riley

    1. The family is reporting Riley's progress on Caring Bridge.

    2. The Caring Bridge comments included a link to the GoFundMe page for people who wish to make donations.

  6. I have provided the NTSB with raw/unedited video.
    Thank you for all you do, NTSB and FAA.

    1. Accident video? If so, share details as all want to know what went wrong with such skilled pilots on board.

    2. Accident video?? Please share details.

  7. Lotta migrating geese this time of year….airstrip where accident happened is in the Yellowstone river flood plane, very attractive to migratory birds. Accident happened well after sunset. Possible to have flown into a flock of unseen geese.

    1. Not disagreeing, but clarifying "well after sunset", the crash was at 7:30 PM, sunset was 7:03 PM, civil twilight ended at 7:32 PM and nautical twilight ended 8:07 PM for Billings on that date.

      The falling light has implications both for seeing birds and making the 63MT approach. Those of us who were not present at the time to see firsthand how much light actually remained down in the valley have only the definitions as a reference.

  8. Pilot, wife and son all pilots. Pilot learned to fly at that strip and could see his childhood home on landing. Whatever happened it was catastrophic.

  9. Preliminary report describes landing as high/fast/floating that turned into an unsuccessful go-around attempt after a veer-off.

    The distance between left and right main wheel first contact followed by a veer-off with left wingtip dragging the turf suggests they were not able to get aligned straight and level with the runway before the mains touched.

  10. Looks like son was PF .. prayers for his recovery and RIP to all :(