Friends pray for Richard Shenk after fiery plane crash in Kentucky |

Friends pray for Richard Shenk after fiery plane crash in Kentucky

A firefighter works the scene where Richard Shenk's plane crashed Sunday in the front yard of a home in Louisville, Ky. (Michael Hayman The Courier-Journal/AP)

ASPEN ” Local friends of Snowmass Village resident Richard Shenk gathered Monday to pray for the noted photographer, who was hospitalized Sunday after a fiery plane crash outside an airport in Kentucky.

Originally listed in critical condition at the burn unit at University Hospital in Louisville, Ky., Shenk’s condition had been upgraded to stable as of Monday afternoon, said Rabbi Mendel Mintz of Aspen. A hospital official would not confirm his condition as of 8:45 p.m.

Shenk was hospitalized after the small aircraft he was flying crashed outside an airport in Kentucky. He was flying alone in his Cessna 210 Centurian, friends said.

“I spoke to one of his sons, and it looks like he has a serious injury,” Mintz said. “He has a lot of burns to his body, and I hope I’m right when I say this ” I pray that I’m right ” but it does not seem life-threatening.”

Initial reports were that Shenk’s situation was dire. But as of last night, his condition appeared to have improved.

“I had a colleague of mine visit with him and he said he’s not at home plate, but things are seemingly not as they appeared to be,” Mintz said.

When word broke Monday about Shenk, friends rallied in his name, holding a prayer service at the Jewish Community Center Chabad of Aspen.

“We had about 30 people show up at very short notice, just by e-mail,” Mintz said.

“We cited some prayers and Psalms and spoke about Richard and what he meant to the community and to fellow Jews around the world. In my opinion, he is what a Jew should represent.”

Shenk was instrumental in attracting the funding that helped bring the 10 wounded Israeli veterans to Snowmass last week as part of a weeklong clinic that coincided with the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

“It was Richard who got that process going,” Mintz said.

Meanwhile, according to published reports, Shenk departed the Rifle airport Sunday morning for Kentucky. Shenk crashed the single-engine aircraft in a neighborhood just a few hundred yards from his destination, Bowman Field. Before skidding into some trees, the plane landed in the front yard of a house, the (Louisville) Courier-Journal reported. No one else was injured.

One of the neighbors who helped put out the blaze caused by the crash told the Courier-Journal that Shenk “was laying crossways on the seat and his shirt had burned off. Skin was peeling off his head and one of his arms. His ears also appeared to be burned. And he was shaking violently.”

The harrowing experience was not lost on those who know Shenk. Friend Bob Morris, who lives in Aspen, said Shenk is in excellent physical condition, which could be key to his recovery.

“He’s a real force,” Morris said. “He works out every morning; he’s extra careful with everything he does.”

Mintz said, “He is a result-oriented guy whose primary cause is helping someone else. He’s a stone-willed person, which I think will help him here.”

Morris said his friend is an experienced pilot.

“I would definitely fly with him,” said Morris.

Originally from Cincinnati, Shenk had plans to stay in Kentucky before he flew to Roanoke, Va., the next day for a physical, Morris said.

Because of Cincinnati’s close proximity to the Louisville hospital ” some 95 miles away ” some of his Ohio friends were able to visit him, Mintz said. Shenk’s wife, Betty Ann, was in Cincinnati when the accident occurred, 11 News of Louisville reported. She subsequently went to the Louisville hospital to be by her husband’s side, Mintz said.

According to Shenk’s website, Shenk has been a photographer for 30 years. He also has a studio in Basalt.

“Shenk’s subject matter varies between abstract compositions (peeling bark, snowcaps, the shadow-play of lines and textures in the quotidian), to portraits of the rural villagers of Bhutan, India and China, to the many foreign and exotic locales of remote lands (Ankor Wat, The Great Wall of China, Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem).

Shenk has traveled worldwide, most recently focusing on the people, places and characteristics of Asia. His latest collection records the different tribes of India and China and their respective costumes,” the website says.

Morris said Shenk is meticulous about his work.

“He won’t let a speck of dust go in the wrong place,” he said.

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said that Shenk shot a photo of him that has been used in promotional material for his book “The Kitchen Readings, Untold Stories of Hunter Thompson,” which he co-authored with Michael Cleverly of Woody Creek.

Shenk and Braudis met a few years ago when Shenk asked Braudis to attend a National Sheriff’s Association conference in Washington, D.C. Shenk wanted to take portraits of various sheriffs who were at the conference, which Braudis passed on attending.

Nevertheless, a relationship hatched from the discussion, and Shenk went on to photograph Braudis next to one of his patrol vehicles, which the sheriff also has in campaign literature.

“I’ve run into him several times since then,” Braudis said. “He’s a real nice guy.”

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