VIDEO and STORY: Cirrus clipped line of tow plane before collision, authorities sayUPDATE: The accident happened Saturday afternoon when a plane towing a glider collided with a Cirrus SR20, officials said. Cirrus, a Duluth-based company, has a team traveling to the investigation site.
By: Samantha Abernathy, Associated Press
BOULDER, Colo. — Two small planes collided in flames over Boulder’s outskirts and killed all three people aboard, while a glider under tow by one aircraft cut loose and flew through the fireball to safety, officials and witnesses said.
Three people were aboard the glider that managed to disconnect from a Piper Pawnee as a Cirrus SR20 clipped the tow line an instant before the two planes collided, Boulder County sheriff’s office spokesman Rick Brough said.
Both aircraft plummeted toward the ground but the glider landed safely with no injuries to anyone on board.
“We understand the glider went through a fireball after the impact,” said NTSB field investigator Jennifer Rodi.
Joan Pallone of Broomfield, Colo., said two of the victims were her brother-in-law, Bob Matthews, and his brother, Mark Matthews. Both were flying in the Cirrus plane.
"I think it was the one with the parachute," she told the News Tribune.
"My sister had just battled from cancer. It's so terrible. ... Both [men] died right near their homes. It's absolutely horrifying."
A Cirrus SR20 is registered to a Robert L. Matthews of Boulder, according to aviation databases.
Boulder County Coronor Tom Faure said his office has not yet made positive identifications on any of the victims, and the identities of the dead might not be confirmed until early next week.
Cirrus Vice President Bill King told the News Tribune that the company planned to have a team at the site today.
“Our first concern is for the family of the people who are involved in the accident. That’s where our thoughts and our prayers are,” he said.
The crash occurred about 1:30 p.m. Saturday near the Boulder Municipal Airport over a suburban area dotted with homes and businesses. No one on the ground was injured.
“We heard a loud bang and looked up in the air and we saw what looked like a glider and big, black smoke right next to it,” Paul Aiken told Boulder’s Daily Camera. “It looked like fireworks, the explosion.”
The Denver Post quoted Sue Patton, 53, as saying she saw two people plunge out of a plane.
“The plane was burning really strong,” she said. “They really didn’t have a choice.”
Rob Zimmerman, who was outside nearby American Legion Post 10, told the paper he saw one person come from the aircraft.
The pilot of the glider was Ruben Bakker, according to his mother-in-law Deborah Tjarks, who spoke to the Associated Press. She said he saw the collision about to happen and released the glider and banked but still flew through the flames. Bakker did not immediately return a call for comment.
Brough said the Piper Pawnee with only a pilot aboard belonged to Mile High Gliding Inc. and had just taken off from the Boulder airport with the glider in tow.
A woman who answered the phone at the glider company declined to comment.
The other plane, a single-engine, four-seat Cirrus SR20, was carrying two people. It was unclear where the Cirrus took off. Tail numbers were not immediately available.
Brough said the identifications of the victims were being determined by the coroner’s office.
Brough said there was initial concern that others were aboard the Cirrus because of its number of seats but investigators were now “pretty certain” there were just the two aboard.
Gliders, or sailplanes, are lightweight aircraft that are often towed into the sky, then released to glide to the ground.
Patton said she watched as one of the planes spiraled downward with a plume of black smoke billowing from it and a parachute deployed.
“It was kind of a slow-motion thing,” Patton said. “It was surreal.”
An amateur video shot at the scene also showed a plane on fire, floating to the ground trailing thick, black smoke and a parachute.
Brough said the Cirrus parachute was designed to deploy if a plane was disabled and was attached to the plane’s wreckage, not a pilot or passenger.
The crash spread debris over a 1½-mile region, scorching several sections of prairie in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
It wasn’t immediately known how the Cirrus got close enough to the Piper Pawnee to clip its towline.
News Tribune multimedia editor Jimmy Bellamy and Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report. Video and photos courtesy the Boulder Daily Camera.