Deep snow, steep slope complicated plane-crash rescue near Aspen
By the time Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers made it within a half-mile of a small plane crash Monday evening near Lenado, it was pitch dark, snowing heavily and the wind was blowing hard.
Seven teams of rescuers — 25 people in all — had been breaking trail through waist-deep snow and were coming at the plane’s reported GPS coordinates at about 9,400 feet from different directions, Patrol Capt. Jesse Steindler of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.
“At that point, we called the pilot (on his cellphone) and asked him to turn on as many lights (in the plane) as he could,” Steindler said. “It was those lights that attracted the rescuers to the location.”
The plane — a 2017 Cirrus SR22T — had been flying Monday afternoon from Aspen to Eagle County when, the pilot later told authorities, his instruments “went haywire” and indicated the plane’s engine was stalling, Steindler said. The pilot, 50-year-old Tyler Noel of Verona, Wisconsin, later said he didn’t think the plane was actually stalling, though he only had seconds to decide whether to deploy the plane’s parachute, which he did, he said.
The plane — which also was carrying Noel’s 49-year-old wife, Kristina — came down deep in the forest on a heavily wooded, long, steep mountainside, Steindler said.
“I can’t emphasize enough how steep it was,” he said.
The tower at the Aspen-Pitkin County airport notified emergency dispatchers of the crash at 3:25 p.m., which it said was about 5 miles north of Aspen in the Woody Creek area, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. The Noels reported they were uninjured and sheltering inside the plane, though they were not equipped to spend the night in that condition, the release states.
“The rescuers reported that the aircraft was lodged on a very steep slope amidst a forest of pine trees,” according to the release.
The airplane’s parachute was tangled in the trees above the plane and was holding the aircraft in place and keeping it from sliding down the slope, Steindler said.
Rescuers, however, were able to extricate the couple, who were cold and suffering from wet gloves, from the plane without any issues. Mountain Rescue volunteers brought extra clothes, snowshoes, food and water for the Noels, then guided them out of the wilderness starting about 9:15 p.m., Steindler said.
The hike out took about three hours, he said.
“It was very difficult for Mountain Rescue just getting there, then getting back out again,” Steindler said.
A message left Tuesday for the Noels seeking comment was not returned.
Cirrus airplanes are apparently one of the few that feature a parachute. The so-called “ballistic recovery system” was developed by BRS Aerospace and comes standard on Cirrus planes, according to BRS website.
The system has saved 422 lives to date, according to the BRS site.
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City leaders agreed Monday to pose a November ballot question asking Aspen voters to expand a tax mainly benefiting the Wheeler Opera House to include other local nonprofit arts organizations.