ROCKY MOUNTAIN, Colo. — “Miracle of Buffalo Pass,” the Rocky Mountain News featured story of Dec. 4, brought back a flood of memories for my wife and me.
We volunteered and helped with the rescue at the crash site 30 years ago.
Married only four months, Marlene and I had a condo at Steamboat Springs and had come in from a day of skiing when the TV news reported that a Rocky Mountain commuter plane, Flight 217, was down and a search party was being formed.
I was active-duty military and my wife was a recently discharged veteran with EMT training. We called the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and volunteered to help and were told that a search party was being formed near Walden. We grabbed water and energy bars and headed up Rabbit Ears Pass into a significant snowstorm even by northern Colorado standards.
We joined the sheriff’s team at the assembly point near Walden, signed in and jumped on the back of a couple of snowmobiles and followed tracks to the crash site.
By that time those ahead of us had already found the downed aircraft. Our crew immediately set about assisting in the preparation of the survivors for transport off the mountain. The pilot was the most seriously injured and an EMT had already administered an intravenous line of saline solution because the pilot was in a state of shock from being buried in snow when the aircraft windshield shattered upon impact.
The IV line soon froze in the subzero cold, so Marlene put the IV bag next to her skin and ran the line down her arm inside her parka while riding down the mountain on the back of a snowcat with the pilot to the assembly point and waiting ambulances.
I stayed with the sweep team to make sure all the passengers were accounted for and transported off the mountain.
Back at the assembly area all the passengers were sent to hospitals in ambulances and our team went to the Walden Cafe for hot coffee, breakfast and a warm room. I looked at my watch and realized that the entire rescue had taken exactly 12 hours from the time we left the assembly point until it was over.
We went back to Steamboat Springs and slept around the clock until the next day. Later we learned that the pilot, Capt. Scott Klopenstein, had not survived. Marlene often wondered if there was something more that she could have done to help him.
The survival of those on board has to be attributed to three key factors: First, the skill of the crew in the last seconds before impact steering the aircraft to a relatively level spot. Second, the incredibly strong construction of the DeHavilland Twin Otter. The wings were ripped off by trees, thus absorbing a huge amount of energy allowing the fuselage to remain intact. And finally, the rapid response of the Colorado Civil Air Patrol, Routt County sheriff, and ski company and utility company employees with their unstoppable snowcats.
I remain active in aviation to this day but always keep a close eye on the weather.Charles and Marlene Myers are residents of Colorado Springs.