Retired Texas Firefighter, Family Die in Missouri Plane Crash

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. (AP) -- Five members of a family from Texas died after their small plane crashed on takeoff from the airport at the College of the Ozarks in southwest Missouri, plunging down a ravine and bursting into flames.

Four of the victims were dead at the scene, and the fifth died later after being flown to a hospital in Springfield, about 60 miles away. Taney County Coroner David Rozzell said in a statement the victims had been tentatively identified and were from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He said he was awaiting dental records to make positive identifications.

Family members in Texas told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News that those killed were pilot Steve Buchanan, 60, of Burleson, Texas, a retired Dallas firefighter; his daughter, Lezli Graham, 37, of Arlington, Texas; her husband, Byron Graham, 37; and their children, daughter Kasey, 14, and son, Cade, 3.

Mrs. Graham was a teacher at Summit High School in Mansfield, Texas. Her husband was a police officer in Mesquite, Texas, friends and family told the newspapers.

The Piper PA-32, a single-engine plane that seats six, arrived at the airport on the college campus in Point Lookout on Saturday, said Camille Howell, the college's spokeswoman. It was headed Monday for Cleburne, Texas, a town about 25 miles south of Fort Worth, said Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane took off to the east at 9:51 a.m., Howell said. She said heavy black skid marks on the runway indicated the pilot had attempted to abort the flight.

The plane plunged about 50 feet into the ravine between the runway and U.S. 65, she said. It broke apart and caught fire amid a thick stand of trees. Smoke could been seen coming from the crash site, and authorities immediately closed a stretch of the highway.

The plane had picked up a full load of fuel before taking off from the M. Graham Clark Airport, Howell said. The airport's communication tower was staffed at the time, but Howell said she had not been told whether the pilot radioed for help.

The first at the scene were an off-duty flight nurse and a mechanic who ran from the Cox Air Care 2 helicopter service facility near the end of the runway, said Susan Crum, program director for the Cox flight stations in Springfield and Point Lookout.

Brian Stamps, a College of the Ozarks student, said he was on a mower at the airport when he heard a noise, turned and saw a plume of smoke at the end of the runway.

``At first, I thought a car had crashed on the highway,'' Stamps said. ``By the time I got down there, the EMTs were already there.''

Howell said the crash was the first fatal accident at the college airport in at least 20 years. In December 1999, six people died when a college-owned plane en route to the airport crashed into a hillside about four miles to the north. That crash killed two professors, their wives, a pilot and a student pilot.

``Our hearts and sympathy go out to the family and friends of these victims,'' Howell said. ``We know firsthand the grief and sorrow.''