‘Amazing’: Pilots, passenger uninjured after midair crash
Patty Nieberg, Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — The pilot of an airplane that collided with another midair near Denver requested emergency landing for engine failure, not knowing that his plane was nearly ripped in half, according to air traffic control audio. Miraculously, both planes landed and no one was hurt, officials said.
The planes were getting ready to land at a small regional airport in a Denver suburb on Wednesday when they collided, according to the National Transportation Safety Board and South Metro Fire Rescue.
The pilot that requested emergency landing was the only person aboard a twin-engine Fairchild Metroliner that landed at Centennial Airport despite major damage to its tail section. The plane is owned by a Colorado-based Key Lime Air, which operates cargo aircraft.
“Looks like the right engine failed so I’m gonna continue my landing here,” the pilot said in an audio clip with air traffic control.
The second plane, a single-engine 2016 Cirrus SR22, was rented by Independence Aviation, the company said in a statement. Its pilot successfully deployed an airframe parachute system designed by Cirrus Aircraft to slow the craft’s descent after a collision.
The Cirrus plane had a pilot and one passenger on board when the pilot deployed a red-and-white parachute and drifted down to a safe landing in a field near homes in Cherry Creek State Park, Arapahoe County sheriff’s Deputy John Bartmann said.
“Every one of these pilots needs to go buy a lottery ticket right now,” Bartmann said. “I don’t remember anything like this — especially everybody walking away. I mean that’s the amazing part of this.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has four people investigating the accident, the federal agency said in a statement.
“We are working to understand how and why these planes collided,” said John Brannen, lead NTSB investigator for the accident. “It is so fortunate that no one was injured in this collision.”
As of Thursday, Brannen had interviewed both pilots and an NTSB air traffic control specialist had listened to recordings from air traffic control. They plan to interview the air traffic controllers who worked with both pilots, according to the statement.
NTSB said it will publish a preliminary report in the next two weeks but it expects the entire investigation to take 12 to 18 months.
The Independence-operated Cirrus had departed Centennial at 9:21 a.m. Wednesday, flew northward near Fort Collins and was returning to Centennial when the collision occurred.
The Key Lime Air cargo flight took off from Salida, a city more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Denver, at 9:56 a.m. and landed at Centennial at 10:25 a.m.
June Cvelbar told the KUSA TV station that she witnessed the collision while walking in a state park.
“I saw two planes in the sky. I saw a larger green plane, which I thought was a tow plane, along with what I thought was a glider being towed by it. I heard a noise but didn’t realize that the two planes had collided,” she told KUSA in an email.
Cvelbar said she saw the green plane fly off and shortly after saw the smaller plane deploy its parachute. She said she initially thought it was a training exercise.
“When I realized that the small plane was going down I ran toward it. The pilot and his passenger were up and about,” Cvelbar said.
Shelly Whitehead told KCNC-TV that she was in her kitchen when she heard a loud bang that sounded like a firecracker. She ran out onto her patio and saw the plane that deployed the parachute coming down in the field behind her house.
“I thought, ‘Is it somebody just jumping out of a plane?’ And then I realized the parachute was attached to a plane,” she said. “I thought for sure they weren’t going to make it out of there.”
Both Key Lime Air, a passenger and cargo charter company, and Independence Aviation, a flight school and aircraft rental firm that owns the Cirrus airplane, are based outside Centennial Airport, one of the busiest general aviation airports in Colorado.
Authorities did not immediately identify the people who were in the planes.
“At this time, we are allowing the NTSB and FAA to conduct their investigation,” said a statement issued by Derek Severns of the Cirrus Platinum Training Center, a pilot training center.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that it was sending staff to investigate. Key Lime Air will cooperate with the investigation, the company said in a statement.
Federal Aviation Administration records show aircraft operated by Key Lime Air have been involved in three fatal crashes.
In 2016, a Key Lime Air charter plane on a nighttime flight from Panama City, Florida, to Albany, Georgia, crashed after possibly breaking up in midair as the lone pilot on board tried to navigate severe weather near Camilla, Georgia.
In 2001, a Key Lime Air flight crashed about 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the southern Colorado town of Pagosa Springs, killing two people on board.
In 2000, two pilots aboard a Key Lime Air Piper were killed after crashing near Kiowa, Colorado, southeast of Denver.
Associated Press airlines reporter David Koenig contributed to this report from Dallas.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.