There is no timetable for reopening the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in the wake of Sunday’s crash of a private jet, airport and emergency officials said during a news conference Monday morning.
The crash occurred during a busy time of year for the airport, leaving thousands of commercial airline passengers, many of them on scheduled ski vacations, having to find alternate ways of leaving or coming into town. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said that as the investigation into the cause of the crash gets underway, safety is still a major concern, given the remaining fuel inside the upside-down airplane and its unstable position on the runway.
A full investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board began Monday, authorities said. The investigators also were waiting on assistance from representatives of the aircraft manufacturer, who were scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon. A briefing from NTSB officials was set for 3 p.m. Monday at the airport. The plane was a 22-seat Bombardier Challenger 600.
“The airport will remain closed until NTSB gives the go-ahead to clear the wreckage and debris from the runway,” a sheriff’s office news release stated. “The local incident management team will be working with NTSB to ensure safety at the crash site.”
One man was killed and two men were injured in the crash, which occurred upon landing during a period of high winds in the Aspen area. All three men were pilots. Two were flying the plane and one was a passenger, the sheriff’s office said. There was no one else aboard the plane.
Co-pilot Emilio Carranza Brabata, 54, of Mexico, was pronounced dead at the scene. The other two men — identified late Sunday night as Miguel Angel Henriquez and Moises Carranza Brabata, also of Mexico — were injured. They initially were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital before being transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. The extent of their injuries is unknown, but sheriff’s office spokesman deputy Alex Burchetta said Sunday that they were not hurt by the fire that erupted when the plane hit the runway.
Witnesses describing the crash have said that the plane came into the airport at a steep angle before crashing on the runway. It then caught fire and rolled before coming to a rest in an upside-down position. One wing was intact while another wing lay underneath the aircraft.
“Every effort is being made by airport officials to reopen the airport as soon as possible but safety is of prime concern,” the news release said. “A crane, two front-end loaders and large straps will be used to help stabilize the aircraft while investigators are in the vicinity.
The wreckage remains are most visible from Owl Creek Road, about three-quarters of the way down the east-west runway, near the southern side of the airport’s property.
Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass, said area hotels and lodges are accommodating many of the stranded passengers with discounted rates. He said the three airlines that serve Aspen — United, American and Delta — were assisting travelers by providing bus service from Aspen to airports in Grand Junction and Denver.
Local officials, including the airport’s assistant aviation director, Brian Grefe, declined to speculate on the cause of the crash during Monday’s news conference. They also said they did not know why the pilots were flying to Aspen.
The flight originated in Mexico and stopped in Tucson, Ariz., two hours before the Aspen crash.
“The airport will remain closed until NTSB gives the go-ahead to clear the wreckage and debris from the runway.”
Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office