ALAMOSA, Colo. - Rescuers recovered the bodies of three people who died when their Arizona-based medical plane slammed into a mountainside at about 11,800 feet near the Continental Divide.
Rescuers used ATVs and hiked up rough, mountainous terrain in a remote part of Archuleta County as a wave of thunderstorms pounded the area, Undersheriff John Weiss said Saturday.
All three bodies were recovered late Friday, but members of the sheriff's rescue team were making the six hour trip from the site early Saturday afternoon.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected at the site on Monday, Weiss said.
The Eagle Air Med Inc. twin-engine Beech King Air C-90A with a crew of three was on its way to Alamosa to pick up a patient for transport to Colorado Springs when it disappeared from radar late Thursday.
The company identified the crew as pilot Ric Miller, flight paramedic Dana Dedman and flight nurse Ronnie Helton.
"Our most humble and sincere condolences and regret go out to the families in mourning. Our hearts are broken, we have lost friends, co-workers and part of our family, a family that is now pulling together to get through this difficult time," vice president Jim Hunt said in a statement late Friday.
The plane took off from Chinle, Ariz., said Dustin Duncan, and it appeared to be on descent when it crashed into the mountainside. There wasn't any sign that the crew had been attempting an emergency landing in mountainous terrain just west of the Continental Divide near 11,677-foot high Charleys Peak, which is about 35 miles southwest of Alamosa.
"It went full speed into the side of the mountain," Weiss said, adding that rescuers reported finding a wide debris field.
Flight controllers lost radio and radar contact with the plane at around 11:20 p.m. Thursday, said Mike Fergus, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.
Duncan said the company has a plane based out of Alamosa - about 160 miles southwest of Denver - but that the company's Chinle-based plane was en route to pick up a patient because the other plane was on a call.
Despite the risk of air medical transport, Duncan said such companies provide a valuable service in the West by getting patients from rural areas to urban trauma centers in the critical minutes after accidents and emergencies.
"Lives are saved everyday by crews similar to those involved in this mishap today," he said.