Crash investigation must wait

NTSB officials cannot examine plane until after winter

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The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the airplane crash that killed one passenger Sunday won't be completed until after the wreckage is removed from the crash site near Rabbit Ears Pass, a task complicated by deep snow and at least three more months of winter.

"I have some questions (that can only be answered) by examining the wreckage," NTSB investigator Jim Struhsaker said. "Because of the depth of the snow and the conditions, it was pretty difficult to do a thorough investigation."

The Piper Cherokee Saratoga plane, which was piloted by Colorado Springs resident Lloyd "Skip" Moreau, crashed into dense forest Sunday afternoon, shortly after taking off from Steamboat Springs Airport.

Fifty-seven-year-old Henrietta Palmer died from injuries sustained in the crash.

Moreau and two passengers survived the crash. All three survivors have been released from Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Federal law mandates the NTSB investigate and determine the probable cause of every civil aviation accident in the United States.

Struhsaker arrived in Steamboat Monday evening. He visited the crash site Tuesday, accompanied by a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Routt County Sheriff's Office, Search and Rescue personnel and the U.S. Forest Service.

"The hardest thing in the wintertime is to assess whether it's safe to get back there," Struhsaker said.

Local authorities declared no avalanche danger, Struhsaker said.

It's important to keep an open mind while investigating a crash scene, Struhsaker said.

"I put the net around everything," he said. "You don't want to start getting focused right away. There's a whole list of things to look into."

Determining the direction the plane was traveling, analyzing the ground scar left as a result of the crash, retrieving radar data, collecting witness statements and testing plane wreckage in laboratories are all important steps in an NTSB investigation, Struhsaker said.

No radar data is available for this particular flight and testing the wreckage will be delayed until the plane can be removed from its remote crash site.

The plane's fuselage is in pretty good condition, which may not be surprising considering the reputation of the Piper Cherokee Saratoga.

The Cherokee "is what we call a station wagon or a pickup in the business," Struhsaker said. "It can take a beating -- it's a workhorse."

Struhsaker interviewed Moreau Wednesday and obtained the plane's maintenance books from Colorado Springs.

He said he would continue to collect information as the investigation proceeds.

Struhsaker would not give a timetable as to when the investigation might be completed.

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