Rescuers search for missing plane | SummitDaily.com
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Rescuers search for missing plane

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk
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HOOSIER PASS – Rescuers from Summit and Park counties responded to the summit of Hoosier Pass Tuesday morning after weak emergency signals were picked up from an airplane that has been missing since Thursday.The 1954 red and tan colored Tri-Pacer piper airplane was being flown by Claiborne Courtright, 81, and his co-pilot, William Duffy, 77, when it disappeared. Both men, who were carrying survival gear on board, are from Pueblo. According to Park County Undersheriff Don Anthony, the men had been pilots for more than 50 years and were “very experienced in mountain flying.”

The last communication with the aviators was last Thursday when they stopped to refuel in Kremmling.Because of the men’s age, the length of time they’ve been missing and a severe storm that blew through Colorado over the weekend, rescuers say this is more of a recovery mission.”To me, it seems like it wouldn’t be an operation where you’d be pulling people out alive,” Summit County Rescue Group public information officer Mike Schmitt said.The search intensified Monday morning after the Air Force notified the Colorado wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) that the plane’s emergency locator transponder had been triggered, said 1st Lieutenant Elaine Venable.

At first, CAP pilots concentrated on areas around Buena Vista and Cañon City, but the bulk of the search moved north on Tuesday after a woman reported hearing a loud boom while at a cabin east of Hoosier Pass.Federal requirements say the plane’s transponder must only be able to emit its signal for up to 24 hours, but faint pulsings were picked up on Tuesday at Boreas Pass, Hoosier Pass and near Purgatory Gulch, which is east of Hoosier Pass.Signals can be misleading though because the waves can bounce off rock walls or be skewed by electronics, Schmitt said.

By noon on Tuesday, the staging area at the summit of Hoosier Pass was buzzing with rescuers and personnel from Park and Summit County Sheriff’s Offices.Summit County Rescue Group was called in because the search area is located in extreme avalanche danger.Three teams accessed the area by foot and snowmobiles – one from Boreas Pass, one from Hoosier Pass and one via Beaver Creek, which is south of Hoosier Pass – while two CAP planes scoured the area from above. A Flight for Life helicopter remained on standby due to its ability to hover in valleys and fly at much lower levels than airplanes.Schmitt said deep, wet snow made it difficult for the snowmobiles to proceed into the backcountry, so many rescuers hiked in about a quarter of a mile to access the terrain. Ground teams use hand held receivers to scan their respective areas, hoping to pick up a stronger signal.

Meanwhile at the base area, coordinators from Summit Rescue Group used topography maps and a three dimensional computer program to look at every inch of the area and communicated with searchers in the field.At one time, rescuers reported seeing something suspicious between Purgatory and Little French Gulches, due east of Hoosier Pass, but nothing more conclusive ever turned up.CAP will continue flying over the area on Wednesday, while local rescuers will be on standby.

The search will continue until either wreckage is found or it’s called off by the U.S. Air Force.”If we don’t find anything before it’s called off, it’s going to be one of those things where months or years later someone discovers it when they’re camping,” Schmitt said.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 229, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com


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