Miracle that six people in small airplanes uninjured

Officials called it a miracle that six people in two small airplanes were uninjured Wednesday after a midair collision near Grand Mesa forced the pilots to make immediate emergency landings.

A Cessna 210, flown by longtime local pilot Andy Gordon, was ferrying two prison inmates and one Mesa County sheriff’s deputy east to Canon City when it collided around 8:45 a.m. with a Cessna 180, carrying father and son John and Tom Haefeli of Del Norte, authorities and witnesses said.

Tom Haefeli, who was piloting the plane, was making a soft turn when “all of a sudden there was a plane right in front of us,” John Haefeli said minutes after crash landing.

Tom Haefeli turned the nose down, but it was too late. The Sheriff’s Department’s plane sheared off a section of the tail, leaving Tom Haefeli little ability to control the plane.

The father and son had time to think “we’re not going to make it,” John Haefeli said.

The Haefelis’ Cessna landed on a mesa between Lands End Road and U.S. Highway 50 near a red barn and flipped upside down. The men walked away unharmed.

Meanwhile, Gordon, a sheriff’s employee and pilot of 46 years, turned the Sheriff’s Department plane around and made a hard landing at Grand Junction Regional Airport. The plane, with a damaged midsection, came to rest with its tail up on the runway.

“Let us just be thankful,” Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said in a statement. “There is no way to fully articulate how grateful we are that these events did not turn into tragedy.”

Upon landing around 9 a.m., sheriff’s deputy Lisa McCammon was taken to the hospital and released without injuries. One of the prisoners on board was identified as Colorado Department of Corrections inmate Robert York, 29, who is serving a six-year sentence for drug manufacturing.  The identity of the other inmate, a federal prisoner, was not released Wednesday.

Both inmates were taken back to Mesa County Jail.

“From the front of the plane, I’m actually amazed that it was still able to work,” Hilkey said, citing Gordon’s numerous flight hours and lengthy flying experience. “There’s no injuries, other than being shaken up.”

Sheriff’s officials were transporting the inmates from Grand Junction to Canon City. Their plane was scheduled to then stop in Pueblo before heading back to Grand Junction.

The Haefelis said they were flying from the San Luis Valley to Idaho to pick up a truck they had purchased.

The Sheriff’s Department transports about 120 inmates a year by county plane or commercial plane.

Another 600 a year are transported by vehicle. The department acquired the plane in 1986.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, officials said.

The midair collision occurred near the scene of another aircraft crash. A St. Mary’s Hospital CareFlight helicopter plunged to the ground off Kannah Creek Road east of U.S. Highway 50 in February 2001 while it was performing a maintenance flight. The accident killed pilot Robert Green, who was the only person on board.


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