You may have heard about the plane crash last weekend (November 28, 2004) in Montrose, Colorado, mainly because a “celebrity” was aboard (NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol; his wife is actress Susan Saint James). Three people were killed. Montrose is the small airport I fly out of, about 18 miles from my house. It’s the “big” town around here, but it’s still pretty small — the population is around 12,000. I live in the next county; by contrast, my entire county only recently passed 4,000 residents in its 550 square miles.
Ebersol and one of his sons were seriously injured; another son was killed. The pilot and a flight attendant were also killed. Susan Saint James was not onboard; she was at their vacation home in nearby Telluride.
So, obviously, the crash is The Talk of the area. There are two main topics of conversation: why in the world the pilot decided to use the short runway — especially considering a pilot’s advisory had just been issued noting the runways were slushy, and the much-longer runway was only a 3-minute taxi away — and the way the news media is acting.
“National” news crews swarmed on the town. The local police and county sheriff actually had to pull cops off patrol to guard the crash scene because camera crews were trying to sneak into the scene. I’ve mentioned I’m a first responder for the local volunteer fire department, so I have radios where I can hear all the cops talking. And I’ve heard the alerts about camera crews trying to get around the blockades to get closer looks.
A plane crash scene is large: planes hit the ground going very fast, and the pieces spread out. Only by recovering as many of those pieces as possible do investigators reconstruct what happened, and here these idiots are trying to get in there and trample evidence buried in snow. If that’s not bad enough, Ebersol’s 14-year-old son was in that wreckage, and wasn’t recovered for two days. What were they trying to do, get video of the coroner removing his charred body?
“Thanks,” guys, for making me ashamed to be associated with your “profession.”
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The National Transportation Safety Board’s conclusion was the freezing-weather crash was due to “the flight crew’s failure to ensure that the airplane’s wings were free of ice or snow contamination that accumulated while the airplane was on the ground, which resulted in an attempted takeoff with upper wing contamination that induced the subsequent stall and collision with the ground. A factor contributing to the accident was the pilots’ lack of experience flying during winter weather conditions.”