DURANGO The pilot of a single-engine plane that smashed into the San Juan Mountains north of Silverton on Dec. 3, killing four people, had only moments before the crash asked an air-traffic controller to track the craft.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board says the pilot was at 20,000 feet with poor visibility about 12 miles southeast of Telluride when he asked for flight following to take him to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in Aspen.
Flight following means the pilot is in contact with a controller who can issue traffic advisories and follow him on radar. The service is routine and not necessarily a sign of distress.
The pilot reported he couldnt descend and maintain visual flight rules, the NTSB said. Visual flight rules allow a pilot to fly only in weather clear enough for the pilot to see. The alternative is to use instruments, which requires a rating the pilot didnt have.
The craft then dropped off radar and there were no distress calls. The NTSB didnt give a specific cause for the crash, a determination that may take a year to reach.
Steve Obsorne, 59, was the pilot of the Socata TB-21. He was accompanied by his wife, Jan (Measles) Osborne, and two of her co-workers at Alpine Bank, Gena Rych and Tyler Black.
According to the NTSB report, the party left Animas Air Park in Durango at 1:19 p.m. and crashed at 1:35 p.m. in Soda Gulch about 1½ miles north of Silverton. Kristina Maxfield, the San Juan County emergency manager, said the crash occurred at about 11,000 feet in a heavily wooded area.
Investigators found debris spread over an area measuring about 1,200 feet by 200 feet, the report said. The wreckage will be recovered when weather permits.
The NTSB report said many people in and around Silverton heard the plane, but no one saw it. The witnesses reported it was snowing and visibility was poor, the report said.
One witness who was about a mile from the crash said it sounded like the plane was a ascending and descending rapidly, the report said.
She told investigators the engine volume varied as if the plane was changing elevation very fast.
Another witness who was cross country skiing said he heard the plane directly above him.
The witness told investigators it sounded like the pilot was having a hard time figuring out where he was going.
Recovery efforts were frustrated by bad weather.
The Socata TB-21 was the second plane to go down near Silverton in less than five months. A pilot and a passenger were killed July 14 in the crash of a Cessna 150L near Silverton.
A preliminary report by the NTSB said people on off-road vehicles discovered the wreckage at about 12,570 feet. No cause of the crash was reported.