UPDATE: Banker Gladden Killed in Plane Crash

W. King Gladden, chairman and CEO of Community First Bancshares and Community First Bank of Harrison, was killed in a private plane crash near his home in Eureka Springs Wednesday evening, Community First President David Morton confirmed Thursday morning.

The Arkansas State Police could not confirm the identity of the crash victim but said the plane crash took place at about 4:53 p.m. at an airstrip near Busch off Highway 62 in the northwest corner of Carroll County. State police spokesman Bill Sadler said the victim's body was being taken to the state's crime lab in Little Rock for identification.

Morton described Gladden as a "premier banker" and a "visionary."

"Our communities have lost a loving husband, father, friend and business partner," Morton said. "He was an innovator and leader in the banking industry in our state who will be sorely missed by his many colleagues and friends."

Gladden was the founding CEO and chairman of the board of Community First Bankshares Inc., a bank holding company that operates Community First Bank. The bank has branches in Harrison, Eureka Springs and Berryville.

Gladden recently partnered with Gary Head, former president of Arvest Bank in Fayetteville; Johnny Allison, chairman of Home Bancshares of Conway; and others to form White River Bancshares Inc. The investors plan to open new a new bank, called Signature Bank, in Washington and Benton counties. So far, the bank has raised $44.15 million in startup capital.

On Thursday, Head called Gladden "a genuine community treasure."

"Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends and all those he touched on his life journey," Head said.

Gladden has been involved in banking for more than 24 years. Before founding Community First Bank, he served as executive vice president and as a member of the board of directors of First National Bank of Rogers until his resignation in April 1997. He also served as chairman of First Eureka Springs Bank and First Arvest Bank of Carroll County.

Before joining Arvest Bank Group in 1993, Gladden worked for the Bank of Eureka Springs for nine years, beginning as assistant vice president and later as president and CEO from 1990-93.

Gladden is survived by his wife, Grace, and his two children, Crystal and Will.