Leadville News – November 26

Plane Arrives Without Landing Gear at Airport

By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today

While some considered it a “cardiac stress test for the pilot,” for most,  it was just a happy ending when the pilot and one passenger walked away unharmed as a private plane skidded onto the runway at the Leadville Airport yesterday morning.

Plane recovery Leadville airport_Leadville Today

Firefighters with the Leadville Lake County Fire Rescue provide fire suppression safety during an aircraft recovery mission at the Leadville airport on November 25, 2017. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

The Piper Aerostar twin-engine, propeller- driven aircraft touched down onto the tarmac without deploying its landing gear at approximately 10:40 a.m. on November 25, causing the plane to skid along the runway at North America’s Highest Airport.

Rescue crews were immediately on scene, with coordinated efforts from the Leadville/Lake County Airport staff, Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue, Lake County Public Works and Millennium Towing. The crews worked for nearly an hour to get the plane lifted off the runway and leveled to the point that its landing gear would drop into place.

One eye-witness at the scene of the accident, reported later on the Leadville Today Facebook Page:

Dan Church wrote: “Happened to have stumbled upon this with my wife and son about 30 minutes after it happened. We went to the airport to see if we could get an aerial tour while staying in Leadville a few days. The pilot kept the plane on the centerline all the way down the runway with as little damage to the plane as was possible.”

As the aircraft recovery effort was underway, other planes which were attempting to land were alerted to the situation as Airport Co-Manager Kelsey Godini placed the HUGE emergency Xs on each end of the runway, a signal to pilots that the airport was temporarily closed.


One aspect that made the situation particularly hazardous concerns fuel. While Leadville Fire crews were on scene with fire suppression systems in place and there was no fuel leak during the one-hour recovery process, the AVGAS which is specially formulated for use in aircraft engines, is very volatile and extremely flammable, with a low flash point. 

While there really is no training for these kinds of situations, working together as a team as well as reassessing the situation as it unfolded, allowed the aircraft recovery effort to remain safe. No doubt, that pilot and owner were breathing a sigh of relief as the plane was up-righted, and towed into Hangar One, looking none the worse for the wear.

plane recovery_Kelsey

Kelsey Godini with the Leadville/Lake County Airport tows the recovered aircraft into Hangar One. Photo: Leadville Today

While the pilot and passenger had “no comment” concerning the accident, neither are also required to be identified in the registration process at the Leadville Airport. In fact, only the aircraft’s FAA registration number, not the name of the pilot or passengers is mandatory. However, Leadville Today did its own research. The plane is registered to Aspen Flight Operations LLC, and the owner Joseph Krabacher was the only passenger on board.  Krabacher  is a real estate lawyer from Aspen,  specializing in historic preservation. The pilot has not been identified.

While no official incident report has been released, on-site reports indicated that the oversight might be leaning more towards pilot error than mechanical failure when it came to the landing gear.

Ironically, the pilot was looking forward to receiving the same thing that many do when flying into North America’s Highest Airport: a free certificate commemorating their SUCCESSFUL landing onto the highest airstrip on the continent.

“We’re still going to give him his certificate, it’ll just be the red version!” stated Public Works Director Brad Palmer, whose office oversees airport operation.

Guess he’s lucky he gets one at all.

Pilot_Passenger Joseph Krabacher Aircraft rescue at Leadville Airport

The unidentified pilot (left) of the twin-engined plane owned by passenger Joseph Krabacher (right), an Aspen attorney, watch as local crews recover the plane which landed at North America’s Highest Airport without its landing gear deployed.

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