Questions from 2002 plane crash remain

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Questions about what caused last December's plane crash on Rabbit Ears Pass may go unanswered until later this year.

A representative with the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that a final report on the crash could take as long as six months.

"It's going to be a long time," NTSB airline safety investigator Jim Struhsaker said.

The Piper Cherokee Saratoga went down Dec. 29 in the Harrison Creek drainage, due south of the 10,559-foot Walton Peak and about seven miles south of the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass.

Pilot Lloyd "Skip" Moreau, 53, and passengers Neil Marsh, 42, and Steve Palmer, 22, survived the crash. A third passenger, 57-year-old Henrietta Palmer, died after spending eight hours trapped under the plane's wreckage.

The plane, which came to rest in deep snow, has not yet been removed from the crash site. Struhsaker said a helicopter would eventually take the wreckage to Greeley, where investigators will be able to examine the pieces more closely.

Moreau flew through the trees to dislodge the wings, where the fuel was stored, and slow the plane. The plane landed between two trees.

The wreckage may or may not tell investigators anything, Struh-saker said. Their inspection of the damaged aircraft is only a part of the investigation.

NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration officials began looking into the crash a few days after the plane went down.

"The investigation has been ongoing," Struhsaker said.

The number of investigations facing the agency bogs down the time it takes to complete a single final report. It isn't likely, but a report on the Dec. 29 crash could come out in as little as 90 days if the investigation doesn't hit any snags, Struhsaker said.

The plane crash caught national attention and earned local rescuers some recognition on network television.

The members of Routt County Search and Rescue were honored as "American Heroes" on the Feb. 6 edition of CBS' Early Show for their efforts in getting the survivors to safety.

Six rescue workers hiked through chest-high snow to reach the site of the crash. Another 30 rescuers assisted with the rescue.

The plane was traveling from the Steamboat Springs Airport to the Canon City Airport when it went down. All of the passengers were from Colorado Springs.

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