A Colorado company operating a plane involved in a spectacular midair collision Wednesday near Denver runs cargo flights out of the Grand Junction Regional Airport and ran twice-a-day passenger charter flights between Grand Junction and Denver until suspending them in March 2020 after the pandemic hit.
Englewood-based Key Lime Air also has had several significant airborne incidents in recent years, some of them fatal, and one in 2015 when a plane that took off in Rifle suffered engine failure and safely made an emergency landing in Grand Junction.
A plane flying for Key Lime Air collided with a single-engine aircraft Wednesday as the two were preparing to land at Centennial Airport near Denver. The second plane deployed a parachute to land, while the Key Lime Air plane landed after the pilot declared an engine emergency, apparently unaware the aircraft was almost split in half by the collision, according to media reports.
Remarkably, no one was injured in the incident, which is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Before COVID-19, Key Lime Air had been offering its charter passenger service between Grand Junction and Denver under the name Denver Air Connection.
In April, a company representative told The Daily Sentinel that the company doesn’t intend to resume the charter passenger service to Grand Junction in the near future, but that option remains open.
“We are hopeful that they will resume service but not surprised that it hasn’t happened yet,” Angela Padalecki, the Grand Junction airport’s executive director, said Thursday.
The service attracted primarily business travelers, and Padalecki said the peak demand for it was during the winter.
She said Key Lime Air continues to come to Grand Junction daily, and often multiple times a day, for cargo flights.
Padalecki called the lack of injuries in this week’s crash “a miracle.”
“We’re so happy to see everyone’s safe,” she said.
As for any safety concerns that might surround Key Lime Air or any other company, that’s something that falls within FAA’s responsibility, she said.
“The airport’s in a support role for all the flights here,” Padalecki said. “We’re always prepared if they have an emergency. But we’re not in a position where we’re evaluating risk or the likelihood for having an emergency with those aircraft. That’s FAA (that does that).”
Padalecki said airports and others such as pilots and the public have the ability to raise safety concerns regarding any operator to the FAA, but that’s not something the Grand Junction facility has had to do in the case of any operator during her time running it.
FOX’s KDVR in Denver reported that NTSB records show aircraft linked to Key Lime Air and Independence Aviation, the company associated with the second plane involved in this week’s incident, have been involved in fatal crashes in recent years.
It said NTSB investigates accidents that involve fatalities, serious injuries or substantial damage, and it investigated four accidents involving Key Lime Air since 2014. These include a fatal 2014 accident involving lost power to an engine, in which the NTSB said pilot error was a probable cause of the accident, and a 2016 incident, in which the plane broke up in the air, something the NTSB said likely resulted from the pilot’s decision to fly in adverse conditions, FOX reported.
FOX also reported that the NTSB investigated two 2015 incidents involving Key Lime Air — one involving a cargo flight crash in Kansas resulting from pilot error, and the Rifle incident.
According to the NTSB final report on the Rifle incident, accessed by The Daily Sentinel from the NTSB website, the pilot of a twin-engine plane on a cargo flight had just left the Rifle Garfield County Airport for Denver when he heard a bang and lost power in one engine. He declared an emergency and landed uneventfully in Grand Junction.
“The examination of the turbine engine revealed fatigue cracks on the second-stage rotor disk, which indicates that the rotor disk likely failed due to fatigue, and this likely resulted in the uncontained engine failure,” the NTSB report says.
The Associated Press reports that in 2001, two people died in a Key Lime Air flight outside Pagosa Springs, and in 2000, two pilots on a Key Lime Air flight died in a crash near Kiowa, southeast of Denver.
FOX reported that FAA records show Key Lime Air and Independence Aviation “are also linked to other incidents in recent years that did not rise to the level of an NTSB investigation, including aircraft veering off the runway, bird strikes, blown tires and aircraft striking a runway light.”
A Key Lime Air representative did not immediately respond Thursday for comment.