Steamboat Springs The Colorado Springs woman trapped for eight hours in a small plane that crashed Sunday near Rabbit Ears Pass has died, Yampa Valley Medical Center personnel said this morning.
Fifty-seven year-old Henrietta Palmer was among four passengers in a Piper Cherokee Saratoga that went down around 1 p.m. Sunday in the Routt National Forest. Routt County Coroner Doug Allen said the woman died of head injuries due to blunt force trauma suffered in the crash.
Three men also were on the plane -- Lloyd Moreau, 53, Neil Marsh, 42 and Steve Palmer, 22, all of Colorado Springs. They all survived the crash. Also on board were three dogs that were rescued Monday and are being taken to Steamboat Veterinary Clinic. A rescue worker said the dogs are fine.
The plane was en route from the Steamboat Springs Airport to Canon City, said Chuck Vale, Routt County emergency services director. Vale said the plane had flown from Canon City to Steamboat on Saturday.
Rescue workers at the scene said the plane was lodged between two trees and that the woman was wedged inside. Steamboat firefighters were taken to the crash site and cut Henrietta Palmer free at about 8:42 p.m. Sunday. She was unconscious but breathing, rescue workers reported.
When the woman arrived at the hospital at 11 p.m., she was still alive, hospital personnel said.
Steve Palmer, Henrietta Palmer's son, used a cellular phone to call 911 shortly after the plane went down at about 1:05 p.m., Routt County Sheriff John Warner said. No flight plan had been filed and officials had not determined who was flying the plane or what caused the plane to go down, Vale said.
It was not snowing when the plane crashed.
National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials were expected to arrive Monday evening to begin their investigation into the crash.
At about 4:12 p.m., two search and rescue helicopters spotted the plane in the Routt National Forest. The plane went down in Harrison Creek drainage due south of 10,559-foot Walton Peak and about seven miles southwest of the summit of Rabbit Ears Pass.
Rescue workers used a snow cat and snowmobiles to remove the men passengers from the crash site between 7 and 8 p.m. Sunday. They were taken to ambulances waiting on Rabbit Ears Pass and transported to Yampa Valley Medical Center. Christine McKelvie, the medical center's director of public relations, said Palmer and Marsh are in good condition and Moreau is in fair condition.
Steve Palmer suffered strains to both feet, his left knee, elbow and wrist. He also suffered a neck strain and a chest wall contusion. He was treated for mild hypothermia.
Moreau suffered a broken arm, facial and scalp lacerations, a concussion and blunt abdominal trauma. He was treated for hypothermia and frostbite on his toes.
Marsh suffered a fractured left rib and minor facial injuries. He was treated for mild hypothermia. He has been released from the hospital.
As he boarded the ambulance, the Moreau told rescue workers there were three dogs on board the plane. The man asked rescue workers to return to the crash site for the dogs.
On Monday morning rescue workers returned to the crash site to try to save the dogs -- Pork Chops, Myro and Cherokee. At 3:25 p.m. Monday, rescue workers reported the dogs were safe and en route to the veterinary hospital.
Emergency officials staged Sunday night's rescue operation from Steamboat Snowmobile Tours, which assisted with the rescue. In fact, the company general manager, Jason Cobb, was the first person to reach the downed plane, arriving at 4:45 p.m., just a half hour after it had been spotted from the air.
Cobb, who was out riding near Walton Peak when the crash occurred, took landmark directions from a search and rescue worker and found his way to the site over rugged terrain.
He said he smelled the crash before he arrived.
"We had some hellacious riding and some really tough hills," he said. "I was surprised we could get up to the site."
He said the plane was upside down and wedged against a tree when he got there. The wings had been sheared off. He said the passengers appeared to be in shock when he arrived.
"They went through a hell of a lot coming through those trees," Cobb said.
Vale said the snowmobilers could not return the way they came in. Workers spent several hours devising a route that the snowmobiles and snow cat could take to get the passengers out.
Vale said six rescue workers made it to the crash site. Some 30 personnel were on hand at Rabbit Ears Pass to assist with the rescue including the snow cat team, snowmobile teams and a cross-country ski team. Paramedics were on site.
Vale said the weather made it extremely difficult to execute the rescue.
The Colorado Highway Patrol closed the eastbound lane of U.S. Highway 40 so an Air National Guard helicopter equipped to fly at night could land on the highway and assist with the rescue.
At 5 p.m. the helicopter flew three rescue workers to the crash site, lowering them by basket, Vale said. Officials had hoped to use the helicopter to drop more supplies at the site and remove the passengers, but then the weather shifted abruptly. High winds and snow moved into the area, grounding the helicopter for the night.
"We talked to the National Weather Service, who warned us a storm was moving in," Vale said. "We thought we had a couple more hours, but Mother Nature kind of changed plans on us and moved in quicker. If the weather had held, we might have had two people out (earlier)."
Agencies assisting with the rescue included the Routt County Sheriff's Department, Routt County Search and Rescue, the Air National Guard, Steamboat Fire and Rescue, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol. Steamboat Snowmobile Tours also provided equipment and personnel.