Steamboat Springs A single-engine plane crashed one mile north of the runway at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Sunday morning in heavy snow. The two passengers, William "Bill" Rooney Jr. and his adult son William Patrick Rooney III, were killed.
West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman said the airplane, a Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing, single-engine turboprop aircraft, took off from YVRA at about 9:40 a.m. en route to Chino or Orange County, Calif.
"We never heard from it again," Rickman said.
Routt County Sheriff's Office Investigator Ken Klinger said the airplane took off west, and it is not clear how the plane ended up north of the runway.
"It should not have been there, in all probability," he said.
Klinger said he suspects the plane was attempting a return to YVRA, but there had been no radio contact indicating a problem.
Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said the plane took off in low visibility Sunday morning. Just before the takeoff, visibility was reported as low as 3/4 of a mile and it was snowing heavily.
YVRA officials were contacted by air traffic controllers at the Denver Center when the airplane did not appear on radar.
Ruppel said the plane made initial radio contact with the Denver Center before takeoff, but failed to radio in when it reached 10,000 feet. It typically takes about 15 minutes for the plane to reach that altitude, when it can be picked up by Denver radar, Ruppel said.
When the plane was reported missing, Rickman confirmed with YVRA officials that the plane had not returned to the Hayden airport.
A short time later, Rickman said, he received a call from a Galaxy Aviation employee who was driving along Routt County Road 51 and observed a fire in the middle of a snowy field. Rickman responded to the scene and walked through thigh-deep snow to the fire, which he said originated from the plane crash.
County Coroner Rob Ryg said the Rooneys were from California but own a home in Steamboat Springs.
The plane is registered to Rooney Consulting & Aviation LLC out of Brandon, Ore., according to Federal Aviation Administration records. William Rooney was the registered manager of Rooney Consulting & Aviation.
Rooney family friend Joannie Johnson described Bill Rooney as a very warm man and careful pilot. Johnson's daughter, Jana Johnson, is engaged to another of Bill Rooney's sons.
Johnson, who has flown with the Rooneys several times in the Pilatus plane, said Bill Rooney wasn't one to take risks.
"He was a very careful man," she said. "Safety was No. 1. That's why he bought the Pilatus. It's probably one of the safest planes there is."
National Transportation Safety Board records indicate eight fatal plane accidents involving Pilatus aircraft since 2000.
Bill Rooney visited Steamboat about every other weekend, Johnson estimated, and he was in the process of renovating a barn on his Steamboat ranch for his son's wedding.
"He's been going to Steamboat most of his life," Johnson said. "He loved Steamboat, that's where his heart was."
After confirming the crash, Rickman returned to the site - a privately owned wheat field - in the YVRA snowcat with a team of six firefighters to extinguish the blaze. Ryg also responded to the crash site to aid with recovery efforts.
Rickman said a National Transportation Safety Board investigator is scheduled to arrive in Hayden today to examine the crash site and begin the investigation.
According to FlightAware, a Web-based flight tracking service for commercial and private aircraft, the plane flew from Chino to YVRA on Thursday, arriving at 11:22 a.m. The flight took about 2 1/2 hours.
The deadly crash comes just less than three weeks after Routt County residents Joe and Suzette Brumleve were killed in a single-engine plane crash near YVRA. The Brumleves were flying from Hutchinson, Kan., to Hayden when their plane went down in snowy conditions about 10 miles west of the runway at YVRA. A memorial service for the Brumleves was held Friday at Christian Heritage School.