By Mark Esper
Four Durango residents were killed in a plane crash a mile and a half from Silverton on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 3, amid intense snow squalls in the San Juan Mountains.
Those who died were identified as Steve Osborne, 59, Jan (Measles) Osborne, 50, Tyler Black, 24, and Gena Rych, 27. They were enroute from Durango to Aspen to attend a party for Alpine Bank when the plane crashed around 1:35 p.m.
Several Silverton residents heard the plane prior to the crash. mall pieces of debris rained down on County Road 110 just north of town.
The main debris field was discovered late Saturday afternoon in the Soda Gulch area, at an elevation of 10,500 feet or so.
Timothy LeBaron, senior air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said in a press conference Tuesday evening at the San Juan County Courthouse that the debris field is about 200 feet wide and at least 800 feet long in the Soda Gulch area above Cement Creek.
“It’s broken up into various pieces. The tail is in one area, a wing in another, and the engine in another,” LeBaron said.
On Sunday morning search-and-rescue crews climbed the steep mountainside and recovered two bodies. On Tuesday, the two remaining bodies were found as some three dozen searchers took part in a larger operation.
LeBaron said the pilot, Steve Osborne, was flying the Socata TB-21 single-engine plane in weather conditions that required instrument piloting but Osborne was not rated for that and was flying under visual flight rules.
Low clouds and snow squalls were over the San Juans on Saturday afternoon.
“Witnesses heard the airplane circling over the area immediately prior to the accident,” LeBaron said.
Lynn Hutson of Silverton was with near the train station with her friend Murray Moore of Twain Harte, Calif., when they heard the plane.
“I just thought it was a snowmobile that wasn’t working right,” Hutson said.
But Moore, a pilot for United Airlines, says he figured it was more serious, recognizing the sound of a plane in trouble.
“It sounded like they were out of control,” Moore said, based on the “fluctuation in the sound of the engine.”
Undersheriff Kristine Burns said the sheriff’s office is grateful for the San Juan Search and Rescue Team, which deployed 10 members, as well as the search-and-rescue teams from Ouray and La Plata County, the Silverton Snowmobile Club, the Red Cross, La Plata County Victims Services, K9 Search and Rescue of Dolores, Silverton Ambulance and Silverton San Juan Fire Department.
Burns said the sheriff’s office has interviewed three witnesses and is “working through” some others. Any information the sheriff’s office gets will be forwarded to the NTSB.
On Wednesday morning Burns sat at her desk with a small piece of an interior door panel that had been found in Cement Creek.
LeBaron said the NTSB will not try to recover any wreckage from the site until the spring. Debris will then be taken to a hangar in Greeley to be inspected.
“Everything is evidence at this point,” LeBaron said. “To pick something up as a souvenir is a federal offense.”
The sheriff’s office wants no one going through the crash scene, but Burns said those who find small items along the creek or elsewhere should turn them into the sheriff’s office.
The NTSB intends to issue a preliminary report on the crash in 10 days. A factual report is expected within a year and the probable cause, as determined by the 5-member NTSB, is likely to be reported in 12 to 18 months.
Did you see or hear something?
NTSB investigator Timothy LeBaron wants to hear from witnesses of Saturday’s plane crash. Call (817) 456-8695 if you saw or heard anything.