NTSB investigation into Hayden plane crash to focus on weather

— An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that the Cessna 414A that crashed short of the runway at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in a snowstorm Sunday afternoon did not have its landing gear down when it crashed into a snow field, killing two people and injuring four others.

“We don’t know yet if (the pilot) was still maneuvering or intending to land. There are many reasons why it would still be up,” lead NTSB investigator Jason Aguilera said Wednesday.

Hans Vandervlugt, 75, was flying the Humpal family from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Hayden when airport officials said he attempted to land at YVRA in a snowstorm with zero visibility. The crash killed Vandervlugt and Gaby Humpal, the wife of passenger Scott Humpal and mother of their three children, who were injured in the crash. The family was traveling to Steamboat Springs for a ski vacation.

Sara Humpal, 10, was the youngest survivor of the plane crash and remained in serious condition Wednesday night at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. Scott Humpal posted on his Facebook page that he and his two sons were with Sara on Wednesday.

Aguilera said Vandervlugt, who friends and family said began flying at 14 years old, was familiar with the runway in Hayden. Investigators with the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration, Cessna and Continental, which manufactured the plane’s engines, spent Monday and Tuesday examining the crash site, which included a debris field spanning about 100 yards. Investigators have not released a cause for the crash and said Wednesday that it could take as long as a year before a cause officially is determined. A preliminary report on the crash is expected as soon as Friday.

Aguilera said the plane traveled 100 yards after it impacted the ground and its right propeller had broken loose during the impact. He added that there were power signatures on both propellers, indicating the engines were driving both of them at the time of the impact. YVRA and air traffic controllers in Denver also told investigators they did not receive a distress call from the pilot.

“All of the major aircraft components were accounted for, and nothing fell off during the flight,” Aguilera said.

He said snow hampered some of the initial inspection of the crash site. The plane, which was manufactured in 1978, is expected next week to be transported to Greeley where investigators will look at it more closely and test its airframe and engines for any defects.

Focus on weather

YVRA officials said the weather changed dramatically as Vandervlugt neared the runway, with visibility reportedly changing from 10 miles to zero in a matter of 16 minutes as a snow squall moved over the airport. Aguilera said the weather “seems to be the (factor) that might have contributed most to the crash.”

“Right now, the weather is one of the most important factors we are looking at,” he said. “We have a meteorologist taking a good look at the weather sites to get a better idea of what exactly it was doing at the time of the crash.”

He added investigators also will look into the health and piloting qualifications of Vandervlugt to determine whether either could have played a role.

“Right now, we’re in a fact-collecting stage,” Aguilera said. “Nothing is off the table. We will continue to collect as much information as we can.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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