Wind has been cited as a possible factor in the plane crash. The Aspen airport can be a particularly challenging place for pilots. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen spoke with some seasoned pilots from the area and eyewitnesses to the crash.
Several people inside the terminal witnessed the crash. Comedian Kevin Nealon tweeted the plane “exploded into flames as it was landing.” Aspen resident Randy Placeres saw the soot-covered plane as the emergency vehicles were just pulling up.
"I was in shock, first of all, I had never been up that close to such a bad accident. I didn’t think that anybody would be able to survive that."
Aspen pilot Bruce Gordon was in a private plane, preparing to depart for Texas when the crash unfolded in front of his eyes.
"Basically we turned on the power switch to check the fuel when all the sudden on the radio, we heard the tower yell out, ‘go around, go around!’ And, we looked up, and here was this big challenger jet coming in."
He says the nose of the plane came down hard.
"One of the main visions I have of it is the plane sort of flipping on its side with the wing hitting the ground and then starting to almost cartwheel, and then the next thing you know, I think it might have caught fire."
Gordon says a big tailwind coupled with snow squalls could have made things difficult for the pilot. Gordon’s flown into the Aspen airport several times and says landing here can be challenging because it’s a narrow valley, the runway’s at a high altitude and weather can be tricky.
Aspen area pilot Greg Roark says it’s only risky if a pilot is unfamiliar with the surroundings.
"If it is kind of a new experience to you then it can be pretty challenging, if you know the conditions and you know what to expect, I don’t consider flying in and out of Aspen any more inherently risky than flying in and out of Albuquerque."
Still, Roark said Sunday he would have chosen not to fly into Aspen.
"If conditions were such as they were today, I would be on the ground somewhere. I would not try that especially with the gusty conditions."
In 2012 airfarewatchdog.com named the Aspen Pitkin County Airport one of the top ten most “thrilling” airports to land at in the United States.