STEAMBOAT SPRINGS A FedEx plane piloted by a 44-year-old Wyoming man crashed into a ridge on the south side of Emerald Mountain Saturday morning en route to Steamboat Springs Airport.
Rescue workers found the single-engine plane ripped into pieces, its propeller dug deep into fuel-soaked dirt on a steep ridge. The plane ripped the tops off a stand of aspens by the crash site.
The recovery workers stepped gingerly around the site, avoiding 80 electrical detonators that had been packed away in the plane before the box that held them broke open, sending the small, cylindrical blasting caps scattering. The detonators, which were bound for a coal mine, were unlikely to go off, because they are usually detonated using a strong electrical charge, said Routt County Undersheriff Dan Taylor.
The pilot, from Casper, Wyo., was pronounced dead at 3:13 p.m. by Deputy Coroner Dwight Murphy. Murphy had not yet released the pilot's name at press time. Based on scanner communication, the pilot was filling in for another FedEx pilot at the time of the crash.
The pilot was removed from the wreckage at 5:50 p.m. by sheriff's deputies and Search and Rescue officials who attempted to leave the scattered pieces of the plane untouched so an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board could investigate. Norm Wiemeyer, the NTSB investigator, will be traveling to the site today to begin his investigation.
The plane, which crashed about 1.5 miles south of a navigational tower at about 9 a.m. in cloudy weather, spilled aviation fuel all over the ground when it hit. Despite the detonators, aviation fuel and canisters of flammable liquid that were located in the rear of the plane, the plane did not explode.
The pungent smell of the aviation fuel alerted the first investigators on the scene to the site of the downed plane once they had climbed the ridge above the crash.
Steamboat Springs Airport employees were in contact with the pilot at about 8:45 a.m. when the plane was still about 20 miles away from the airport. When the pilot had not landed a half-hour later, the employees called Airport Manager Matt Grow. By then, the Federal Aviation Administration was already on the phone with local officials, Grow said.
Joe Stevens of the Civil Air Patrol was called to investigate.
Although the navigational instrumentation on top of the mountain recorded the plane had passed nearby, recovery workers did not have a precise longitudinal and latitudinal fix until mid-afternoon, said Search and Rescue Incident Commander Adam Christman. The plane's Emergency Locator Transmitter was not operational, he added.
Katrina Zupan, FedEx's station manager in Steamboat Springs, said company policy forbids her from commenting on the incident. Beyond confirming the crash, no one at FedEx would comment.