A private jet with three people on board exploded upon landing at Aspen Pitkin County Airport today at 12:30pm. One passenger is dead; the other two, both male, remain in critical and "fair" condition at Aspen Valley Hospital. At this time, the airport remains closed, with no official word on when flights will resume. Among the hundreds of witnesses were actor/comedian Kevin Nealon and LeAnn Rimes. Curbed Ski was on-scene just minutes after the disaster.
No official word has yet been released on the cause of the crash, but high winds in excess of 18 mph are thought to be a major factor. According to Woody Creek resident Sidney Bell, "There were heavy tailwinds today, and that prevents planes from achieving the lift they need. I was waiting for the bus across the street from the airport, when I saw and heard the plane in question attempt an aborted landing from about 500 feet elevation, and then ascend for another pass. I learned 10 minutes later that the plane was flying extremely low over a different bus before it crashed."
A TSA agent who working at the airport at the time added, "I saw a plane attempt to land, and then abruptly fly up, toward the mountain. I was perplexed."
Kevin Nealon tweeted just moments after the disaster, "Horrible plane crash here at Aspen airport. Exploded into flames as it was landing. I think it was a private jet." Nealon's friend, a part-time Aspen area resident, also witnessed the crash, as did her husband and young son. "I heard a woman screaming and then she fainted, then looked up and saw a huge fireball. It's traumatic, surreal." Another witness told Curbed Ski, "I've never seen anything like it. It flipped onto it's back as it landed, and there was just a massive ball of flame."
Curbed Ski was driving past the airport just minutes before the crash and observed that flights taking off were having difficulty maintaining stability; road conditions were also treacherous, with high winds and gusts of snow providing zero visibility. Roughly 10 private jets were idling on the runway waiting for clearance and the smell of jet fuel from their engines was overwhelming.
While the plane's identification number and names of the passengers have not yet been released, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer has said the jet was a Bombardier Challenger 600.
The incident has left hundreds of holiday-goers stranded in Aspen. All departing flights are booked for the next four days, according to an announcement made by airport officials this afternoon. All rental cars and hotel rooms sold out, as well. Our condolences to those affected by this tragedy.
· One dead following plane crash at Sardy Field [Aspen Daily News]