Well-known Steamboat Springs businessman Rod Schrage walked away unharmed after his single-engine plane lost power and went down near Routt County Road 33 on Saturday afternoon.
Schrage, 55, an experienced pilot who is best known as the owner of Ski Haus and its related stores, had just taken off from Steamboat Springs Airport in his 1985 Arctic Tern and was heading west over the Bridgestone Winter Driving School when the engine stopped.
Schrage, who was alone in the two-seater plane and had planned on simply "putting around" on a clear afternoon, found his plans changing drastically. When the engine shut down, he followed the standard flying procedures of switching fuel tanks and turning on the carburetor heat, in case ice in the carburetor had caused the malfunction, as he prepared for a forced landing. Near the driving school, he opted to turn back toward its snow-covered tracks and use the plowed parking lot of Track No. 3 -- an open area about 75 feet wide and 40-plus yards long -- as a makeshift landing strip.
Although he was able to reduce the plane's speed to about 30 mph for landing, one tire missed the firmly packed snow of the parking lot by about 5 feet, sinking into the soft snow beside it. That apparently caused the plane to flip over its nose and land upside down.
"I was so sure I could get (onto the plowed area), and if I could've, we wouldn't be talking," Schrage said, because the plane would've landed without a problem.
Although a driving class was in progress when the accident happened, it was on a different track, and no people or vehicles were in the immediate vicinity of the accident. A student taking part in the class saw the plane going down and used a cell phone to dial 911, said Clark Bryant, lead instructor at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.
Bryant and fellow driving school employee Tom Courtright also saw the plane going down, though their view of the landing was blocked by a hill on the property. They were the first people on the scene.
"I heard his engine go out and saw him make a turn back this way, and I knew he didn't come back into sight," Courtright said.
"When he went under our line of sight, we were in the truck and headed over there already," Bryant said. By the time they reached the upside-down plane, Schrage was out of it and walking around.
"That guy's good," Bryant said. "He cut the power and, boom, he had the plane down."
Schrage said he has owned the plane for about six months and has about 75 hours of flying time in it.
He did not know what caused the engine to stop, but he said carburetor ice is a common cause of such problems during winter weather. The left wing of the plane was damaged when it flipped over, but Schrage said the damage was repairable.
Routt County Sheriff's Office and Steamboat Springs Fire and Rescue officials responded to the scene. The accident has been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.