OURAY COUNTY Aircraft wreckage and victims recovered successfully from Ridgway Reservoir
By Bill Tiedje
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Ouray County Press Information Officer Marti Whitmore announced that the plane which crashed into Ridgway Reservoir on Mar. 22 had been successfully removed.
"We have recovered all five victims of this very tragic plane crash," said Whitmore. "We have recovered the remains of the plane, and it has been lifted and transported out of the water for FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB (National Traffic Safety Board) investigation."
Ouray County Coroner Colleen Hollenbeck identified the victims as Jimmy Hill, 48; Katrina Barksdale, 40; Xander Barksdale, 8; Kobe Barksdale, 11; and Seth McDuffie, 14, all of Gadsden, Ala.
"We offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of all of these victims and the community of Gadsen," said Whitmore. "We appreciate your loss."
According to Whitmore, recovery crews, including commercial dive and salvage contractors Inland Marine of Denver and Beegle Aviation of Greeley, completed the extraction of the plane from the reservoir in roughly three and a half hours, departing from the marina at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Mar. 27 and returning with the plane around 1 p.m.
Ridgway State Park staff also provided boat support for the recovery operation.
Park Manager Kirstin Copeland described the process of the plane's recovery.
The plane was first raised from where it came to rest in 60 to 70 feet of water on the lake's deep silt bottom.
The aircraft was then stabilized for towing, remaining in the upside down orientation in which it came to rest.
Despite the plane's precarious position in the lake's depths, Copeland said the dive and salvage contractors undertaking the operation were able raise the plane without issue.
A representative of the aircraft's manufacturer, Daher-Socata, was also onsite to provide expertise on the aircraft's load-bearing abilities.
NTSB investigator Tim Sorensen said the plane's gross weight was 8,000 pounds.
Winds remained light on Thursday afternoon as the recovery crews incrementally towed the aircraft to the boat ramp. The plane was removed from the water by a shoreline salvage crew, according to Copeland.
Sorensen said he would be following the plane to Greeley to continue investigations into the crash and described the process with which the NTSB's investigation would proceed.
"Now that the aircraft is recovered, once it's relocated, (NTSB) will be doing a complete layout and a complete inspection examination of the airplane itself, of the engine, propeller and all the systems." Sorensen explained. "And we will be looking at background data as far as pilot qualifications, pilot training, weather conditions, air traffic control handling— all of the aspects that come into operating an aircraft and that could have affected the aircraft."
A Colorado State Patrol hazmat crew was also onsite Thursday and took care of all hazmat containment and cleanup, according to Whitmore.
"I don't think we have any reason to believe that there are any remaining hazardous materials in the water or that there is any further or additional containment that needs to occur," Whitmore said.
Copeland said the park would continue to monitor for any hazmat issues, working with the aircraft's insurance company.
Both officials praised the high degree of professionalism and efficiency with which the CSP hazmat crew managed the cleanup and containment operation.
Ridgway State Park will reopen on Friday, Mar. 28.
Whitmore announced that official photographs of the plane wreckage taken after the victims were removed had been made available online. She noted the damage to the plane was extensive.
Hollenbeck said the family of the deceased had visited the area, including the parents of McDuffie and grandparents who lost three grandchildren in the accident.
She conveyed the family's appreciation for the local support and accommodations, including the Ridgway State Park staff that showed them where the crash occurred.
"The family asked me to convey their deepest gratitude for every single encounter they made along their journeys," said Hollenbeck.
Hollenbeck reported all the victims would be home in 48 hours, except for the pilot, Hill, whose body would first undergo autopsy by the NTSB before returning to Alabama.
Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett and Copeland, on behalf of the county and the state park respectively, expressed their willingness to accommodate any needs of the victims' family.
Jamie Ryan, a cousin of the Barksdale family who joined the conference by phone from Gadsden, expressed her appreciation for the helpfulness and communication from the emergency management team in bringing closure to the families with the recovery effort.
"We just want to say thanks to everyone for all of your hard work," said Ryan.
Whitmore responded, "On behalf of everyone here, our thoughts and prayers are with your family and we thank you."