Airplane Crash in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Date: July 9, 2010
Contact: Kyle Patterson, 970-586-1363

At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 8, park rangers received a call from the Civil Air Patrol that they had received an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) at 12:30 p.m. and another one at 4:24 p.m. potentially from a downed plane within the park near Milner Pass. Park rangers glassed the area from multiple locations on Trail Ridge Road and did not see any sign of an airplane or smoke.

Around 8:00 p.m. two Civil Air Patrol fixed wings were dispatched to the area and they confirmed the ELT beacon in upper Forest Canyon. They also reported seeing two points of light, possibly fire, in the same general area. Last night, park rangers began hiking in to this remote area from Gore Range Overlook off Trail Ridge Road. Rangers searched until 2:00 a.m. and resumed searching at 5:00 am. They reached the two victims at 6:40 a.m. this morning.

The pilot was Jim Michaels, 54, and one passenger, his daughter Tonie, 18. They walked away from the crash with just minor injuries. The plane was a single engine fixed wing American Champion Aircraft manufactured in 2009, and owned by Michaels Air Service, LLC of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The owner of the aircraft is Jim Michaels. Mr. Michaels is an experienced pilot, flying since age 16. His daughter, Tonie, is also a pilot and has just gotten her license.

The crash site is in heavy timber. The plane’s wings were folded back and the plane came to rest against a large fir tree. The cockpit was intact but the canopy was sheared off. The plane did not catch fire. The Michaels did not lose consciousness and got out of the plane because of concern the plane might catch on fire. They built a shelter from plane debris and trees and waited out a passing storm. They built two signal fires. Then they saw a plane overhead and added airplane fuel and a tire to one of the fires to create black smoke.

They left Oconomowoc Wednesday and stayed in Greeley that night. The flight plan called for them to continue to Aspen, Telluride, Leadville and back to Oconomowoc.

A helicopter from Grand Teton National Park stationed here to assist with the Cow Creek Fire, was staged at the Alpine Visitor Center early this morning. A landing zone was selected about a mile from the crash site and the survivors were walked to the landing zone where they were flown out to Alpine Visitor Center arriving at 9:23 a.m. No ambulance was requested.

Rangers are assisting the victims and at this time, the Michaels’ do not want to speak with the media.

Park officials are in contact with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board and will be cooperating on an investigation of the cause of the crash.

To the best of our knowledge, there have been seven aircraft crashes with eleven fatalities since 1948, the last being in 2000 near Comanche Peak with two fatalities. There have been five aircraft crashes with fifteen survivors since 1945, the last being in 1994 near Hallett Peak with three survivors.

There is no imminent threat of the signal fires spreading but firefighters on scene to put out the fires.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517


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Through winter, the Information Office is open 8:00 am–4:30 pm Mon–Fri. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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