The pilot of a single-engine plane that crashed near Silverton on Saturday Dec. 3, spoke with an air traffic controller moments before the tragedy that killed 4 Durango residents, but the plane then disappeared from radar.
That’s according to the National Traffic Safety Board preliminary report on the crash, issued Dec. 14.
The NTSB noted that the pilot, Stephen Osborne, 59, was operating under visual flight rules even though poor visibility at the time dictated instrument flying over the San Juans amid heavy snow squalls.
The flight left Animas Air Park in Durango at 1:19 p.m. and crashed minutes later, at about 1:35 p.m. just outside of Silverton.
Small bits of debris rained down on County Road 110 north of town and the crash left a debris field 200 feet wide and 1,200 feet long.
Also killed on the flight were Durango residents Gena Rych, 27, Tyler Black, 24, Jan (Measles) Osborne, 50.
The NTSB report said that an initial review of air traffic control records revealed that the pilot contacted flight controllers while at 20,000 feet and 12 miles southeast of Telluride, which would put it very near Silverton.
“The pilot requested visual flight rules” to Aspen’s airport. He reported he could not descend below his current altitude and still remain under visual flight rules.
“Moments later the airplane disappeared from radar and contact with the pilot was lost,” the NTSB report said. “There were no reported distress calls from the pilot.”
The NTSB preliminary report does not list an actual cause for the crash. Investigators say it may take more than a year to issue a final report.
But the preliminary report issued last week noted that several people in and near Silverton heard the plane prior to the crash, though no one saw it in the snowy weather.
One witness reported that while cross-country skiing, he heard the airplane very clearly directly above him. The witness told NTSB investigators that it sounded like the airplane was doing aerobatics or tricks, and that it sounded like the pilot was having a hard time figuring out where he was going.
Another witness located about a mile from the crash site reported hearing the airplane overhead. She stated that the airplane sounded like it was racing down through the sky, and then back up very fast, then back down again. The engine volume varied as if the airplane was changing elevation very fast. She thought someone was “up there fooling around.”
NTSB investigator Timothy LeBaron asked her if she had ever heard an airplane performing aerobatics before. She responded, “Yes — on TV. And that is what it sounded like.”
The airplane came to rest on snow-covered mountainous terrain in an area of tall pines up Soda Gulch, about a mile and a half north of Silverton. Debris was strewn as far as Cement Creek below and County Road 110.
NTSB officials say they intend to wait until spring to have the wreckage removed and transported to a hangar in Greeley to be inspected.