FAA investigates airport crash

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A resident's concerns have sparked the Federal Aviation Administration to further investigate a Mountain Flight Service crash in March and operations at the Steamboat Springs Airport.

In response to letters written by pilot Warren Harner Jr., the FAA said it is looking into Mountain Flight Service Inc. aircraft performance, instrument flight rule departures out of the Steamboat Springs Airport and night IFR operations into the airport.

A letter written by John Lusk, unit supervisor of Denver's FAA Flight Standards District Office, stated the office would provide a formal written response to Warner's concerns by Jan. 31.

The letter indicated the FAA would investigate Mountain Flight Service and a March 19 incident in which one of its planes crashed while trying to land at the Kremmling airport. The plane landed on a snow-covered edge of a mountain ridge, and the pilot said he could see the airport, but not the terrain as he was trying to land. Three people had minor injuries from the crash.

On Sept. 30, the National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the accident was the pilot's improper in-flight planning and his failure to maintain safe clearance above the high terrain. The NTSB said the high terrain and dark night were contributing factors in the accident.

Mountain Flight Services Director Bob Maddox said the final report on the plane crash was only reopened because of Harner's inquiry. Harner's complaint, Maddox said, was that not everyone on the aircraft was interviewed.

Harner could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

In his letter to Harner, Lusk said the office would need specific documentation -- videotapes, photographs and written witnesses statements -- to investigate any additional concerns.

Harner submitted Lusk's letter to the City Council on Tuesday in reference to the first reading of an ordinance that would amend Mountain Flight Services' operating license to transfer its maintenance operations to Mountain Aircraft Maintenance Inc.

In a 4-3 vote, the council approved the amendment; the three council members voting in opposition -- Susan Dellinger, Ken Brenner and Steve Ivancie -- said they wanted to wait for the FAA to finish its investigation.

Mountain Flight Services, best known as the operator of the air ambulance service, wanted to sell the aircraft-maintenance portion of its business to Mountain Aircraft Maintenance, owned by James Mann.

Mountain Flight Services would continue to provide air ambulance, air charter and flight management services and aircraft maintenance for airplanes it owns or operates. Mountain Aircraft Maintenance would provide aircraft maintenance to the public.

Before voting on the ordinance, Dellinger said she wanted to see the results of the investigation and made a motion to table the ordinance until those results are available.

"I am not real comfortable making any changes with the Mountain Flight Service right now as they are under investigation," she said.

Her motion to table, supported by Brenner and Ivancie, failed 4-3. After the motion failed, Ivancie asked if the city's legal department could at least look into what the city's liability would be surrounding the investigations.

Councilman Paul Strong said he did not see the connection between the FAA's investigation and allowing Mountain Flight Services to sell its maintenance operation division.

"Even if (FAA) pulls their charter, they could still run the maintenance operation," Strong said. "It is two separate things."

Council approved the first reading of the ordinance with Strong, Loui Antonucci, Nancy Kramer and Kathy Connell voting in favor of it.

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