A helicopter carries the fuselage of a plane that crashed Aug. 9 on Rabbit Ears Pass.

Photo by Scott Franz

A helicopter carries the fuselage of a plane that crashed Aug. 9 on Rabbit Ears Pass.

NTSB releases preliminary report for fatal plane crash on Rabbit Ears Pass

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— When he took off from Steamboat Springs Airport earlier this month, Terry Stewart was looking forward to getting the experience he needed to start flying from his home in Houston to his new vacation home in Estes Park.

He had just turned 60 and the skies were mostly clear that day.

His flight instructor, William Earl Allen, was sharing his passion for flight with yet another student.

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Rabbit Ears plane crash site

Both of these men's lives ended suddenly and tragically Aug. 9 when the Piper Arrow they were flying in crashed on Rabbit Ears Pass sometime around 11 a.m.

The probable cause of the crash isn't expected to be determined until sometime next year.

What is known today is that a handful of other planes also have crashed in the same general area throughout the years, and Allen was an experienced pilot who said he started flying in 1991.

Allen, 62, taught at Journeys Aviation in Boulder.

The only thing more fun than flying, Allen said a few years ago, was flying with groups like the Rocky Mountain Aerobatic Club.

His student on this day also had many passions, including being an active member of his church and showing off his skills as a gourmet chef.

Stewart retired in 2008 and “devoted the past six years to his responsibilities as spouse and father, anchoring the whirlwind activity of the three women central to his life,” according to his obituary.

Family members wrote that Stewart had a successful banking and finance career that lasted 25 years.

He leaves behind his wife of 32 years, Gail, and daughters Kelsey, 24, and Jillian, 13.

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board last week made the long trek out to the crash site on a remote part of Rabbit Ears Pass.

The plane wreckage then was airlifted to a trailer and driven to a secure facility for further examination.

“It's hard to predict the length of any single accident investigation, but fatal investigations average about 12 months,” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said Tuesday. “It'll probably be next year until we get the probable cause.”

It isn't uncommon for probes of fatal plane crashes to take a year or longer from start to finish, including in Routt County.

It took 15 months for the NTSB to determine the probable cause of a fatal plane crash at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in February 2012 that killed two people, and almost 10 months to determine why a Piper PA24 crashed in August 2012 near Milner, killing the plane's lone occupant.

An investigator with the NTSB on Tuesday morning filed the preliminary report of the latest plane crash in Routt County.

It offered little new information about the crash, and it did not say who was flying the plane at the time.

The report details the manner in which the plane went down in the Harrison Creek Drainage.

“The airplane struck several trees in a mountain pass about 9,100 feet mean sea level on a heading of 240 degrees,” the investigator wrote in the report. “The wings separated from the fuselage during the impact sequence. The fuselage came to rest on its right side on a heading of 350 degrees.”

The report also outlined the sunny, calm and clear weather conditions at the time of the crash.

A call to the lead investigator of the crash was not returned Tuesday.

Allen, the flight instructor, was featured in a 2011 video about flight instructors at Journeys Aviation.

In the video, he talks about why he started flying and why he enjoyed it.

“It gives you a feeling of freedom and a feeling of full control over your environment that very few other things do,” Allen said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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