Planes collide in air near Grand Junction; no one hurt |

Planes collide in air near Grand Junction; no one hurt

P. Solomon Banda
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Authorities investigate one of two planes that collided mid-air, south of Grand Junction, Colo., Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. Two small planes carrying a total of six people collided in the air in western Colorado on Wednesday, but both landed safely and no injuries were reported, authorities said. (AP Photo/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Dean Humphrey) ** DENVER POST OUT **
AP | The Grand Junction Daily Sentine

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. ” Two small planes carrying a total of six people collided in the air over western Colorado on Wednesday, but both landed safely and no injuries were reported, authorities said.

“This is truly one of those miracles,” said Allen Kenitzer of the Federal Aviation Administration. “Usually with a mid-air collision you have very serious damage and very serious injuries, if you have survivors at all.”

The planes collided about 15 miles southeast of Grand Junction and 190 miles west of Denver, said Mike Fergus, another FAA spokesman. Authorities said it wasn’t yet clear how it occurred. Authorities could not say what parts of the plane touched or how hard but described it as a collision.

One of the planes was a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department single-engine Cessna 210 carrying two inmates, a deputy and a pilot. The other was a single-engine Cessna 180 with two people aboard.

The sheriff’s plane landed at Grand Junction Regional Airport and the other in a remote area about 10 miles south of the airport.

Sheriff’s officials said a federal inmate and a state inmate were being flown to the Canon City area, home to state and federal prison complexes.

The plane made a hard landing back at the airport and suffered front-end damage either from the collision or the landing, the sheriff’s office said.

Sheriff’s officials identified the pilot as Andy Gordon, a pilot since 1962, and Mesa County sheriff’s deputy Lisa McCammon. Mesa County referred questions about the inmates’ identities to the Department of Corrections, which did not return a message.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said McCammon was transported to a hospital as a precaution but doctors found she didn’t have any injuries.

The other plane, Cessna 180, came to rest on its top amid sagebrush and scrub oak at the foot of the towering Grand Mesa. A medical helicopter crew spotted it, landed and determined that both people who were aboard the plane were all right, sheriff’s spokesman Chuck Warner said.

The plane is registered to Miel del Rio Grande Inc. in Monte Vista, about 165 miles southeast of Grand Junction. Benjamin said the plane originated in southern Colorado, though it was unclear where it was headed.

Kat Siglinger, an employee of Miel del Rio Grande, said company owners John Haefeli and Thomas Haefeli were on the plane and had called to tell her they were all right.

“They told me the collision tore off their tail,” she said. “And that was at 10,000 feet in the air. They were pretty relieved. Both their wives are on their way to get them.”

Benjamin said their plane did not have a vertical stabilizer, the vertical fin on the back of an airplane that is part of the tail, but it was unclear whether it was lost in the air or while crash landing.

It was also unclear whether a pilot could fly that type of plane without a vertical stabilizer, which provides lateral stability. The Air Force’s flying wing B-2 bomber doesn’t have one. During World War II some planes returned to base with part of the stabilizer missing, and in 1964 a B-52 returned to Eaker Air Force Base near Blythville, Ark., after losing most of it to turbulence over New Mexico, said John Little, assistant curator of The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

He said a skilled pilot in decent weather has a “fighting chance” at landing a plane without the fin.

“Landing a plane without a vertical stabilizer, that’s the kind of thing they give Distinguished Flying Crosses for,” said Little. “Whoever brought that plane down did a fantastic job.”

Doug Oliver of Wichita, Kan.-based Cessna Aircraft Co., manufacturer of the plane, said it depends on what happened to the back end of the airplane.

“It’s there for a reason,” he said.

Registration records indicate the plane was manufactured in 1955.

Kenitzer and National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams both said they did not have any additional information. Fergus said radar records will indicate how high the planes were flying, but they’re now part of the investigation and cannot be immediately released.

Between 1998 and 2007 there were 120 mid-air collisions between light aircraft, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

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