Photo courtesy of Tony Vowels
Tony Vowels with wreckage of his plane.
By Mark Esper
At the China Café in Durango Tuesday night, Silverton’s newest resident, Tony Vowels, received a fortune cookie that seemed perfect for the occasion.
His fortune: “Develop an appreciation for the present moment.”
That’s something Vowels can relate to.
Earlier that day he walked away from a plane crash near the Durango Air Park with just minor injuries.
Vowels, 49, was piloting a Dragonfly experimental plane that he had bought in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday. He first flew to Albuquerque to see his mother. Then at 9 a.m. Tuesday he took off for Durango.
The weather was fine, but “Animas Air Park, for a small, very light airplane, is very treacherous,” Vowels said.
“I came in on my fourth attempt to land, with a slight crosswind and an uphill breeze,” Vowel said Wednesday. He said the wind “kicked him around.” He touched down once, then increased power for another go around.
But things then went terribly wrong.
“The front canard wing stalled and was porpoising as I was trying to gain altitude,” Vowels said. “The terrain came up faster than I was coming up.”
Vowels said he reacted quickly.
“I had a quick thought — a lucky thought — to pull out all the power and just before I hit the trees I nosed up to let the underside hit the trees.”
Vowels figured he went from 90 miles per hour to a complete stop in perhaps a second or two.
“I hit the top of the trees, hit the next trees and that just kind of sent me sideways — turned me about 80 degrees and stopped me. It was a very short landing field — about 40 feet.”
The crash was reported at 11:20 a.m.
His plane was badly crumpled but amazingly he was left with only a small laceration on his left hand, a bump on the back of his head and a bruised shoulder.
“I shut off the fuel and went through emergency procedures,” Vowels said. And he contacted the airport by radio to let them know he was OK.
He was some 300 yards off the runway in woody terrain.
Vowels offered praise to Gregg Flying Service, the airport’s operator, and to emergency responders.
“They were helping me feel comfortable, for one,” Vowels said. “All sorts of things are running through your head.”
Tuesday night he began hauling pieces of wreckage from the crash site.
“It will be completely removed by the end of today,” Vowels said Wednesday. “You can hand-carry it out.” The plane weighs a total of 850 pounds.
Vowels said he has been flying for some 20 years and this was his first “incident.”
Vowels is a consultant in the nuclear power industry who has until now lived in Channahon, Ill.
But he said he “fell in love with this area many years ago.”
He has owned property in San Juan County for years and was married at the Alma House in November 2000, with Judge Allen Nossaman officiating.
“I’ve been trying to get up here for many, many years,” Vowels said.
On Wednesday, Vowels at last arrived in Silverton. He is finalizing his purchase of a Reese Street home. He also wanted to register to vote, but was of course a day late to register in time for the Nov. 6 election.
“I was a day late, but I have a good excuse,” Vowels said.
Vowels said that despite the harrowing crash “I still love flying. This ain’t gonna stop it. I just won’t fly another Dragonfly again. It was a handful to fly. You have to be constantly working because of how light it is,” Vowels said.
“I’m very thankful to the Lord for being able to survive that.”