Celebrities Witness Aspen Plane Crash That Killed 1, Injured 2

By THOMAS PEIPERT | January 7, 2014

A private jet went off the side of a runway in Aspen, flipped over and burst into flames, killing one man and injuring two others, Colorado authorities say.

Officials said the flight to the wealthy mountain resort city originated in Mexico and all three aboard were Mexican pilots, two were flying and one was a passenger.

Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, identified the man who died as co-pilot Sergio Carranza Brabata. He did not know where in Mexico the 54-year-old Brabata lived.

Burchetta said the plane went off the right side of the runway Sunday afternoon, flipped over and burst into flames.

“The injuries were traumatic in nature, but they were not thermal,” he said. “So the fire never reached inside the cabin as far as we can tell.”

Ginny Dyche, a spokeswoman for Aspen Valley Hospital, said the facility received two patients who were involved in the crash. She later said one patient in fair condition and another in critical condition were transferred elsewhere.

The sheriff’s office identified the two others aboard as Miguel Henriqez and Moises Carranza, but didn’t say who was the most seriously injured. It also wasn’t clear which of the two were piloting along with Brabata.

Aspen attracts celebrities and the wealthy for its skiing and ambiance, which means numerous private aircraft touch down at its airport.

Landing there is challenging because it is surrounded by mountains and pilots must descend sharply. In 2001, 18 people died when a chartered Gulfstream III jet from Burbank, Calif., crashed while trying to land. It hit a hillside just west of the airport.

Doug Britt, who was watching planes take off and land Sunday with his son, said the plane descended steeply before it crashed but didn’t appear to be in trouble. He told The Aspen Times that the crash created a fireball about 10 stories high.

At least two celebrities reported on Twitter that they were witnesses to the crash, confirming their tweets with The Associated Press.

Country singer LeAnn Rimes Cibrian tweeted via (at)leannrimes on Sunday: “So sad! Horrible plane crash we just saw happen at the Aspen airport.”

Comedian Kevin Nealon sent a series of tweets about the crash through (at)kevin_nealon.

His first one said, “Horrible plane crash here at Aspen airport. Exploded into flames as it was landing. I think it was a private jet.” Later he tweeted, “Airport is closed now. I think I’ll drive back to LA after seeing that.”

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, confirmed the plane was a Canadair CL-600, a midsized private jet. The aircraft is registered to the Bank of Utah in Salt Lake City, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. Bank officials did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

The sheriff’s office said the airport was closed after the crash and would reopen as soon as possible. But it did not provide a timeline, saying the NTSB must give the OK to remove the debris from the runway. An investigation by the NTSB and FAA was expected to get underway Monday morning, the office said.

Allen Kenitzer, an FAA spokesman, said the plane was headed from Tucson, Ariz., and crashed upon landing. Officials said the crash happened at 12:22 p.m. MST.

A plane with the same tail number took off at 6 a.m. MST from the airport in Toluca, a city 35 miles west of Mexico City, before stopping in Tucson, according to a Mexican federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Tucson International Airport officials didn’t immediately have more information. Attempts by the AP to reach airport officials in Colorado were not immediately successful.

Tom Renwick, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction, said snow showers were reported in the area Sunday afternoon, but not at the airport. He said it has been overcast all day with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees.

Aspen is located in the Rocky Mountains about 100 miles southwest of Denver.

(Associated Press writers Jake Coyle in New York and Adriana Gomez Licon in Mexico City contributed to this report.)

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