Plane skips off I-70, crashes on Vail Pass
August 19, 2005
Two men were injured Friday morning when the small plane they were in crash-landed on Vail Pass.Witnesses said the plane touched, or bumped, twice on the westbound lanes of Interstate 70 before landing in trees about 75 feet north of the highway, Vail spokeswoman Suzanne Silverthorn said. “One man on a motorcycle had to duck,” Silverthorn said. “He was pretty lucky.”No other vehicles were involved in the incident, which occurred about three miles west of the 10,500-foot summit of Vail Pass.The single-engine plane was headed east toward Vail Pass at about 9:50 a.m. when the pilot apparently lost control, Silverthorne said. Vail firefighters arrived shortly after the crash and pulled the men from the plane. Silverthorn said the passenger was conscious but the pilot was not.They were taken by ambulance to Vail Valley Medical Center, where the pilot, Brooks Johnson, 43, was reported in serious condition. The passenger, John Clark, 52, was treated and released Friday afternoon. Both men were from Green River, Wyo.Silverthorn said the men planned to fly over Copper Mountain to take pictures of the pilot’s brother, who was working an event taking place there. They planned to continue on to the airport in Leadville.Traffic over the pass was reduced to one lane near the site of the crash, with cars slowing down to look at the unusual sight of a plane lying just off the road among some small trees. Pieces of the red and white Piper aircraft lay strewn along the hillside as media and emergency workers stood about speculating about how the plane came to land as it did.According to witnesses, the plane was traveling east and touched the interstate, clipping a sign in the median before it landed facing north on a 45-degree slope. Several small trees were bent or broken and a small amount of fuel was spilled from the plane. There was no smoke or fire involved, but the plane appeared to be heavily damaged.Weather at the time of the accident was mostly clear, although a moderate breeze was blowing. Vail fire Capt. James Overcash said it’s not unusual for small planes to get into trouble at high altitudes.”It requires a lot of experience,” he said. The pilot’s wife, Nancy Johnson, said her husband has a fractured back and was awaiting tests at Vail Valley Medical Center to see if surgery was needed.”All I heard was the plane was down,” she said. “And at that point, I’m freaking out. I’m thinking ‘Where?’ because of all the mountains in Colorado, and you know, ‘He’s a goner.”‘Johnson said her husband was a skilled and experienced pilot.”It just makes me feel good he was flying because I know he had a plan B going on,” she said.Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration in Denver arrived Friday afternoon to investigate the accident, according to a town of Vail news release.