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Local rescue team recovers bodies

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Huerfano County Sheriff’s deputies recovered the bodies of two men killed in a Thursday night plane crash in rugged high country west of the Blue Lake and Bear Lake area this past weekend.
The initial report of the downed aircraft was made to Las Animas County officials at approximately 8:30 pm Thursday, Sept. 13, according to Las Animas County Sheriff James Casias. Huerfano County took over the search when it was determined the crash was in that county.
Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman said two deputies and one detention officer recovered the bodies from a ridgeline at approximately 12,400 feet on Saturday after the crash site was located on Friday by the Colorado Civil Air Patrol and deputies hiked into the area. The victims have been identified as Steve Huber, 57 and Dr. Bruce Dalton, 69, both of the Hillsborough, NC area.
A Flight for Life helicopter was needed to transport the search and recovery team out of the crash site on Friday evening and returned Saturday to recover the bodies of the two men.
Newman said deputies Joe Albano, Sgt. Craig Lessar and detention officer Derrick Omer left the sheriff’s office at about 2 pm Friday after ATVs and other equipment were loaded on trailers and the exact location of the wreckage had been provided by the CAP.
Newman said deputies were immediately dispatched to the scene as visual reports from CAP indicated the fuselage and wings of the aircraft appeared intact and there was initial hope there may have been survivors. “But, when they got up there it was clear the aircraft had caught fire,” Newman said.
He said the crash site offered no exact cause of the accident, although the pilot may have been trying to gain altitude to get over the mountain or may have been caught in a down draft as it appeared the aircraft hit the ground in a pancake manner as opposed to going in nose first.
Newman said recovery operations were difficult due to the rough, heavily forested area where the aircraft went down. He said rescue personnel were only able to get part way to the scene on ATVs and then had to walk up the mountain in dense woods for over three hours to access the crash site.
The accident is expected to be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the wreckage will likely be removed from the mountain by private insurance company officials.