Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

November 28, 2012

Stormy Cherokee County skies contribute to plummeting of plane

Federal authorities currently investigating the cause of the crash

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

CHEROKEE COUNTY — John Thomas "Tom" Steeper apparently struggled with the twin-engine Cessna he was flying Monday night, attempting to maneuver it away from the stormy skies above Cherokee County.

But there was no escaping the weather.

The aircraft – which  the 64-year-old was navigating from West Houston Airport to Tulsa Riverside Airport in Oklahoma –  vanished from both radar and radio contact about 9:30 p.m.

As it plummeted to earth, the Cessna created a spectacle some Cherokee County witnesses likened to television reporters as a "huge orange glow" in the sky.

The airplane crashed – explosively – just outside the city of Wells, killing Steeper, who was the only occupant of the of the Cessna 421C Golden Eagle.

Search and rescue crews located the wreckage of an aircraft late Monday evening in a field outside Wells.

According to a report issued by the Aviation Safety Network – but not yet verified by the Federal Aviation Administration –  the airplane impacted terrain in the field near Wells and is believed to have been destroyed by both the impact and post-impact fire.

The cause of the crash was under investigation Tuesday by FAA  investigators, to whom the Texas Department of Public Safety have handed over the reins of the investigation, said Trooper Jean Dark, Texas DPS public information officer.

"They will review the flight plan and determine any detailed information – such as if there were mechanical or lighting issues with the aircraft," she said.

The aircraft left the Houston area at 8:41 p.m. Monday and was supposed to arrive at its destination roughly two hours later, according to FlightAware, a  tracking website.

 Steeper, a Broken Arrow, Okla., resident, has held a private license's certification since 2008.  The aircraft he was in was listed in the FAA Registry as "H-S Air LP," which is a cancelled domestic limited partnership connected to a management trust of which Steeper was a co-trustee, records show.

Records also show Steeper,  a licensed professional engineer, was connected in some fashion to ECSI: Engineering and Consulting Services, Inc., of Broken Arrow. ECSI's phone number was listed on his professional license.

A person who answered this number hung up on a reporter seeking comment Tuesday.

The FAA investigators, meanwhile, are part of a team led by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is in charge of all fatal aircraft accident investigations, explained Terry Williams, an NTSB public affairs officer.

"We sent an investigator from our Chicago office, and he arrived there this afternoon," Williams said Tuesday. "There also are parties from CESNA, the aircraft manufacturer, and also Continental Motors participating in the investigation. ... We don't expect to have any results before at least tomorrow."