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A few weeks ago, Joel Coleman took an afternoon flight in Utah in a small plane piloted by C. Mark Openshaw, a member of the Utah State Board of Education, so the two friends could spend some time together.

It turned out to be Coleman's last flight with his friend. On Friday, Openshaw and his wife, Amy, both 43, of Provo, and two of their children, 15-year-old Tanner and 12-year-old Ellie, were killed in a small-plane crash in rural Missouri.

The only other passenger, the Openshaws' 5-year-old son, Max, survived the crash and was flown to a hospital in Springfield, Mo., with serious injuries, Sgt. Jeff Kinder of the Missouri Highway Patrol said.

Kinder said a Beechcraft plane piloted by Mark Openshaw took off shortly after 7 a.m. from a grass runway on his farm in rural Texas County in southern Missouri. A witness said that when the aircraft reached about 100 feet, "the plane stalled and fell out of the sky," Kinder said.

Roy Burgess, a family friend who lives next to Mark Openshaw's parents in southwest Missouri, told KYTV that he walked outside to watch the takeoff and that Openshaw's mother and sister were on the highway waving at the plane. "And I never did see it get above the trees," Burgess said.

The Openshaws had been visiting family in Missouri, Kinder said. The two older Openshaw children, sons Porter and Zane, were not on the trip. Porter is on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Zane is studying abroad.

Family members in Missouri said Friday they were not ready to talk about their loss.

Coleman, superintendent for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, described Mark Openshaw as one of his closest friends. He said he is heartbroken by the tragedy and praying for the surviving sons.

"I have some comfort knowing their extended family is so amazing and the boys will be well cared for," he wrote on Facebook. "This is one of the hardest days I can remember. Ever.

"I can't wait to see you again, my friend."

Coleman told The Tribune that Openshaw was a careful pilot who did everything by the book. Openshaw would visit Missouri in the summer and liked to work the farm himself, he said.

Openshaw was universally liked, according to Coleman, and "probably one of the kindest people I know." He said his friend was serving as an LDS bishop in Provo and the kids in his ward loved him.

Others in Utah also were devastated by news of the crash.

Board of Education Chairman David Crandall expressed sympathy at the passing of the four and said Mark Openshaw was "deeply passionate" about Utah's public schools.

"Mark had a way of brightening every room that he entered, and I will personally miss that," Crandall said in a news release.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of Utah Education Association, called Openshaw a kind and generous man who was willing to listen to different views on various policies and legislation. Gov. Gary Herbert described Openshaw as a strong advocate for Utah students.

"His service also extended to his community and church," Herbert said. "He will be greatly missed."

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes praised Openshaw for championing education reform and working to bring technology and innovation to schools.

"His leadership to improve Utah's schools, particularly his efforts to strengthen curricula for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are sure to have a lasting impact on the education of Utah's schoolchildren," Hughes said.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said of Openshaw, "Utah lost a strong leader and good man in this tragic accident. Members of the Utah Senate offer deepest sympathy to Mark Openshaw's close friends and family. His injured son and surviving family are in our thoughts and prayers"

He said Openshaw was quick to volunteer his time, energy and expertise. "We will miss his leadership on education issues, his good humor, dependability and commitment to making Utah a better state."

Openshaw, a graduate of Brigham Young University, was first elected to the school board as a representative of District 13 in 2008 and won re-election in 2012. He was chairman of the board's Law and Licensing Committee at the time of his death.

He was the co-founder and president of AirComUSA, a tech company providing Web and telecom services, and also was involved in agriculture and ranching operations, according to his biography on the Board of Education website. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America and his interests included cycling, skiing, and general aviation.

Under Utah law, Herbert, with the consent of the state Senate, will appoint a replacement to serve out the remaining 18 months of Openshaw's term.

The crash is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Tribune reporters Benjamin Wood and Matt Canham and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Twitter: PamelaMansonSLC