Fatal Air Crash
The tragic crash of a Beechcraft BE33 west of the Telluride Airport is a head-scratcher, not least due to the fact that the three fatalities were all very experienced pilots. All three were reportedly members of Arizona Cloudbusters Inc., a flying club in Chandler, AZ, and the accident aircraft was a rental out of their flying club.
The Telluride Airport website cautions pilots about mountain flying hazards, and notes that, with an elevation of 9,070′, Telluride is North America’s highest commercial airport.
The aircraft is believed to have taken off at time 1820Z (11:20AM local time). As indicated by the series of automated weather observations, it appears the pilot chose to take off into deteriorating conditions. Due to airport/weather geometry and local terrain, it is possible the pilot took off toward the west, with a tailwind.* The runway slopes downward to the west, dropping 32′ in elevation over the 7,100′ runway length. [link to Airport Diagram]
A quick analysis of the 4-hour weather sequence shows the following:
- visibility had reduced from 10-miles to 3-miles to 2-miles to 1.5-miles, then improved back to 10-miles after the eight-minute gap of missing weather data;
- light snow had begun roughly 30-minutes before takeoff, but ended within two hours;
- had lowered from 3,300′ broken to 2,400′ broken to 1,500′ broken to 1,400′ overcast to 1,200′ overcast, then improved dramatically to 8,000′ overcast after the eight-minute gap of missing weather data;
- temperatures were right near freezing, and humidity was high, increasing the risk of problems related to airframe icing or fuel-moisture.
- The snow event was marked with significantly different winds. Specifically, both before and after the snow event, winds were gusty and out of the southwest; during the snow event, winds became more calm but out of the east, hence a likely tailwind at takeoff.
Here’s the actual weather sequence, showing the light snow event with a light gray background color. Note, too, for reasons unknown, no automated weather was available online for roughly an hour after the estimated time of the accident….
And, here’s two other images: a satellite view, and a topo map. Both images are from MyTopo.com (use this link and search for ‘Telluride Airport’ to look more closely at these and other images online). Note that the airport is atop Deep Creek Mesa and is surrounded by canyons, roughly five miles west of the center of the town of Telluride; to the east is the heart of the Colorado Rockies, while to the west a high plateau slowly descends into Utah.