Pilot in Branson Crash May Have Saved Lives by Avoiding Busy 76 Strip - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Branson, MO

Pilot in Branson Crash May Have Saved Lives by Avoiding Busy 76 Strip

MARCH 21, 2006 - Posted at 7:53 a.m. CST


BRANSON, MO - Texas pilot and dentist Paul Johnson may have saved scores of lives when he crashed his twin-engine plane into a self-storage unit yesterday just off the main drag of Branson, Missouri, a resort town which was bustling at midday, even in the off-season.

The 71-year-old Johnson, his wife and another couple, all from Texas, died in the fiery crash after he radioed in with mechanical trouble.

The small Piper Seneca, its fuel tank filled just before takeoff, exploded a safe distance from restaurants, motels, tourist attractions and lunchtime traffic that crowded two-lane Missouri 76, the main thoroughfare through town.

Officials said the four victims, all in their 70s and 80s, were friends who often traveled together.

They were heading back home after a long weekend in Branson, which draws more than seven million visitors per year with a mix of country music, wholesome stage shows and crooners such as Andy Williams and Bobby Vinton.

Federal aviation investigators will comb through the wreckage today and may be able to determine if Johnson deliberately steered the falling plane away from Branson's main strip.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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