Thursday, January 8, 2004
The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into a Mountain Flight Services plane crash near Kremmling last March ended months ago and has not been reopened.
David C. Bowling, regional director of the NTSB office in Denver, wrote in a letter Thursday to Mountain Flight Service that the NTSB closed its crash investigation Sept. 30. Bowling said the NTSB is not investigating Mountain Flight Service.
"As with all our investigations, we are exploring potential safety recommendation proposals to better improve flight safety with respect to all air ambulance operations throughout the country," Bowling wrote. "The case we investigated involving your operation will provide information in that pursuit. That exploration and research has nothing to do with your certificate, your ability to operate, nor should it cast any negative light on your operation."
A story and headline on Page 4 of Thursday's Steamboat Today incorrectly indicated that the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash again.
Mountain Flight Service is the vendor contracted to operate Yampa Valley Air Ambulance. On March 19, the Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crashed on a hill while trying to land in Kremmling. The NTSB ruled that the accident was the result of improper in-flight planning by the pilot and failure to maintain clearance above the high terrain. Three people on board the plane suffered minor injuries. The pilot is no longer with Mountain Flight Service.
John Lusk, unit supervisor of the FAA's Denver Flight Standards District Office, said the FAA is in the process of responding to concerns raised by Warren Harner, a Steamboat Springs resident and commercial pilot. Harner has raised questions about Mountain Flight Service operations and operations at the Steamboat Springs Airport.
Lusk wrote to Harner on Dec. 31, telling Harner that the FAA will respond to his concerns by Jan. 31 and that in the future, his concerns should be accompanied by specific documentation, including videotapes or photographs.
Mike Fergus, spokesman for the FAA's Northwest Mountain region, said Lusk's letter does not constitute an investigation. Fergus said it is standard practice for the FAA to respond to public complaints so long as those complaints are within reason.
"We're going to take a look at it and see if there really is something afoul or amiss, and then decide if that warrants investigation," Fergus said. "Responding to a question is not a formal investigation by any stretch."
Harner provided the Steamboat Springs City Council with a copy of Lusk's letter. In a cover letter, Harner stated there was an ongoing NTSB and FAA investigation of Mountain Flight Service. Harner, who is in South America, was unavailable for comment.
Some City Council members also indicated an investigation was under way. Three council members -- Susan Dellinger, Ken Brenner and Steve Ivancie -- cited the investigation as reason to deny Mountain Flight Service's request for an amendment to its operating license. The request was approved 4-3 on first reading. If given final approval, the amendment would allow Mountain Flight Service to sell the maintenance portion of its operations.
Bob and Cindy Maddox, owners and operators of Mountain Flight Service, said the concerns raised by Harner about their business and the airport are unfounded.
The Maddoxes said their company was authorized to fly in and out of Steamboat Springs Airport in 1993 and received authorization in 1995 to conduct night instrument approaches into Steamboat. The planes the company uses -- Beechcraft King Air turboprops -- have been specifically approved by the FAA for use in Steamboat, Bob Maddox said. Additionally, the company's five pilots are tested every six months by the FAA to demonstrate proficiency.
"Our primary concern has been to operate safely and responsibly," Cindy Maddox said.
Bob Maddox said he encourages discussions about safety at the airport, but said he fears his business has been unfairly targeted. "I am concerned that the conversation has turned from a discussion about safety," he said, "into a witch hunt against Mountain Flight Service."