A pilot killed when a small single-engine plane crashed during takeoff from a Johnson County airport on New Year's Eve was a DEA special agent and the U.S. Army Reserve 354th Civil Affairs Brigade commander, according to officials.

Col. Jonathan J. Vannatta, 48, of Maumelle, Arkansas, and his passenger, Darcy L. Matthews, 43, of Belton, Texas, died in the fiery crash shortly after 4 p.m. The plane had just taken off from the Johnson County Executive Airport at 151st Street and Pflumm Road.

The 352nd Civil Affairs Command posted news of their death to its Facebook page Wednesday evening, saying that Vannatta had taken command of the brigade during a ceremony in White Plains Maryland on Aug. 4.

“Colonel Vannatta will be sorely missed and fondly remember,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Farris, commander, 352nd Civil Affairs Command, in the post. “Our deepest sympathies are with his family at this time.”

Vannatta also was a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's LIttle Rock, Arkansas, district office, said Special Agent Debbie Webber, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Division of the DEA.

The crash occurred on Vannatta's personal time and didn't involve a DEA mission or aircraft, she said. Vannatta had been with the DEA since 2000.

“He was an outstanding agent as well as friend and mentor to other agents, so he is going to be deeply missed,” Webber said.

Matthews, who was not with the DEA, is believed to have been his girlfriend, Webber said.

Vannatta was listed as a co-owner of the plane, according to the FAA aircraft registry.

It was unknown what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has taken over the investigation. A preliminary report is expected to be available in about two weeks, with the final report completed in 18 to 24 months.


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