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Plane Down in Vail Colorado

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Nov 29, 2001
VAIL PASS — Two men were injured Friday morning when the small plane they were in crash-landed on Vail Pass.

Witnesses said the plane touched, or bumped, twice on the west-bound lanes of I-70 before landing in trees about 75 feet north of the highway, Vail spokeswoman Suzanne Silverthorn said.

“One man on a motorcycle had to duck,” Silverthorn said. “He was pretty lucky.”

A single-engine airplane crashed into a hillside four miles west of Vail Pass Friday morning around 10.
Bret Hartman/Vail Daily

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Vail Daily Photos
No other vehicles were involved in the incident, which occurred about 3 miles west of the 10,500-foot summit of Vail Pass.

The single-engine plane was headed east toward Vail Pass at about 9:50 a.m. when the pilot apparently lost control, Silverthorne said. Vail firefighters arrived shortly after the crash and pulled the men from the plane. Silverthorn said the passenger was conscious but the pilot was not.

They were taken by ambulance to Vail Valley Medical Center where the pilot, Brooks Johnson, 43, was reported in serious condition. The passenger, John Clark, 52, was treated and released Friday afternoon. Both men were from Green River, Wyo.

Silverthorn said the men planned to fly over Copper Mountain to take pictures of the pilot’s brother, who was working an event taking place there. They planned to continue on to the airport in Leadville.

Traffic over the pass was reduced to one lane near the site of the crash, with cars slowing down to look at the unusual sight of a plane lying just off the road among some small trees.

Pieces of the red and white Piper aircraft lay strewn along the hillside as media and emergency workers stood about speculating as to how the plane came to land as it did.

According to witnesses, the plane was traveling east and touched the interstate, clipping a sign in the median before it landed facing north on a 45-degree slope.

Several small trees were bent or broken and a small amount of fuel was spilled from the plane. There was no smoke or fire involved, but the plane appeared to be heavily damaged.

Crash passenger calls himself luckyVAIL — John Clark said Friday night he would buy a lottery ticket .

After the Piper Cherokee airplane he was riding in crashed on Vail Pass, the Union Pacific traffic controller felt a bit lucky.

He managed to leave Vail Valley Medical Center with a back brace, wrenched knee and an injury from an unknown object hitting him in the jaw.

But the 52-year-old chalks most of the luck to the ability of his pilot, Brooks Johnson, who Clark said was doing OK. “I have so much faith in Brooks,” he said. “I never felt panicked.”

Brooks has considerable experience flying in the mountains, Clark said.

After dipping into the Vail valley, Clark said the plane had plenty of altitude, but failed to pull out. There was not enough room to get out, he said.

Just 100 feet separated the plane from a clean escape.

“He wasn’t setting the plane down. (Interstate 70) was coming up to meet us,” Clark said.

The plane’s left wing hit the interstate median, knocking off the fiberglass fuel tank that is located at the tip of the wing, he said. The plane then crashed into the hillside.

Clark slid out onto the wing to exit the airplane and checked himself for injuries. He saw Brooks had blood on his forehead and helped him out of the plane.

Once emergency personnel were at the site, Clark said he “walked away from the plane and tried to gather my thoughts.”

Clark said the cause of the crash was not a down draft or mechanical failure, and he couldn’t speculate any further.

The Green River, Wyo. resident said he plans to return home shortly, but he joked about getting out on the town Friday night.

“I could be a Vail citizen by Saturday night,” he said.
- J.K PerryWeather at the time of the accident was mostly clear, although a moderate breeze was blowing. Vail fire Captain James Overcash said it’s not unusual for small planes to get in trouble at high altitudes.

“It requires a lot of experience,” he said.

The pilot’s wife, Nancy Johnson, said her husband has a fractured back and was awaiting tests at Vail Valley Medical Center to see if surgery was needed.

“All I heard was the plane was down,” she said. “And at that point, I’m freaking out. I’m thinking ‘Where?’ because of all the mountains in Colorado, and you know, ‘He’s a goner.”’

Johnson said her husband was a skilled and experienced pilot.
“It just makes me feel good he was flying because I know he had a plan B going on,” she said.

Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration in Denver arrived Friday afternoon to investigate the accident, according to a Town of Vail press release.

Also responding to the incident were the Vail Police, U.S. Forest Service, Copper Mountain Fire Department, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol and Summit County Emergency Services.

According to information gleaned from the plane’s registration number, it was a Piper PA-32-300 six-seater built in 1969. The owner is registered as B&B Flying, Inc. in Green River, Wyo. The flight originated in Rock Springs, Wyo.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
Pure Genius

These guys descended into a valley at 8,000 ft to take some pictures and then wondered why they couldn't climb back up to 11,000 ft to clear Vail Pass.

After realizing they were not going to clear the 11,000 ft mountain pass they did a forced landing on I-70 into the oncoming traffic - almost hitting a motorcyclist.

Its a miracle nobody died. The aircraft was broken down and trucked out on a flatbed.
"knocking off the fiberglass fuel tank that is located at the tip of the wing"

Usually the media screws up much more badly than this. They even called it a PA-32-300 instead of a "Cessna Piper" or some such garbage.

I'm so proud.
PeteCO said:
"knocking off the fiberglass fuel tank that is located at the tip of the wing"

Usually the media screws up much more badly than this. They even called it a PA-32-300 instead of a "Cessna Piper" or some such garbage.

I'm so proud.

couldn't say for sure by the photo, but some Lances do have tanks in the wingtips.
Has anyone seen that video in the ASF mountain flying course? The link to the course in here:


Pretty scary stuff... In the video they try to turn around in rising terrain and eat it. Glad these guys got out ok. Anyone remember the Canadian guy that tried to cross the divide using the I-70 route a couple years ago? I think he was in a 172 and had a ROAD ATLAS for navigation. Ended up putting it down at the Loveland ski area...

Ok, I just found the NTSB report. No Atlas but equally dumb a WAC chart (for that area??):
This sounds like less of a case of "plane down"

and more of a case of "mountain up."

Or, "mountain up" and "plane not up enough"?


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