An Iowa physician and his companion died Sunday afternoon, Jan. 9, when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Sangre de Cristo mountains south of Westcliffe near the Custer-Huerfano county line.
They were enroute from the Deer Valley Airport near Phoenix, Ariz., to Pueblo Memorial Airport in a Piper Malibu six-passenger single turbo engine plane.
The subjects have been identified as Dr. Michael 0. Welton, 66, and his girlfriend, Roswitha Marold, 70, both of Waterloo, Iowa. Welton, described as an experienced pilot, was a urologist in Waterloo. Marold was a retired business owner.
Authorities began looking for the downed aircraft Sunday afternoon when the Automated Flight Service Agency notified the Custer County Sheriff’s Office that an aircraft in our vicinity had fallen off the radar screen. The search initiated within an hour of that call.
Custer County Coroner Art Nordyke said it was determined that the plane had been traveling at an elevation of about 17,000 feet when it quickly descended on the eastern side of the Sangres, crashing intoa small creek just inside Huerfano County about 100 yards off the Rainbow trail near the 12,005-foot Blueberry Peak in the San Isabel National Forest. The elevation there is 9,700 feet. The site is not in the federal wilderness area.
Members of Custer County Search and Rescue were first on the scene, accompanied by search and rescue personnel from Fremont and Huerfano Counties along with Denver Civil Air Patrol. Ground crews, snowmobiles and CCSAR’s new track vehicle searched until late Sunday. The plane was spotted by ground searchers Monday afternoon, and the victims’ remains were recovered late Tuesday afternoon.
Up to 40 searchers, two Blackhawk helicopters from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and one fixed wing aircraft were involved in the search and recovery.
The aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter, activated either by the crash or the pilot, drew searchers to the site.
Authorities say the pilot was relying on the instrument panel for navigation, probably due to limited visibility from the snowstorm The weather in Phoenix was about 40 degrees and fair on Sunday, but a storm quickly descended on the Colorado mountains Sunday afternoon.
Jeff Outhier of the Westcliffe U.S. Forest Service office went to the site on Wednesday to assess the situation, “It’s not in the wilderness boundaries,” he said. “In the past I’ve hauled (wreckage) out on mules.” Even though the crash site is in a deeply wooded area, the wreckage should be able to be pulled out,” Outhier said, though he didn’t know when or by whom.
Jason Aguilera with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Denver was at the crash site on Tuesday. The cause of the crash has yet to be determined, local officials say.
(Courtesy Wet Mountain Tribune: 13 January 2011)