ASPEN (KUSA) - Federal investigators will examine the wreckage of a small jet in hopes of learning why it erupted in flames while trying to land in Aspen Sunday, killing a co-pilot and critically injuring two other pilots on board.
Authorities identified the deceased co-pilot as Sergio Carranza Brabata, 54, of Mexico. Two others were hospitalized: Miguel Henriquez and Moises Carranza. Both were in critical condition, according to a Pitkin County sheriff's spokesperson.
Officials said the flight originated in Mexico and made a stop in Tucson before heading to Aspen, .
The plane circled the airport multiple times before touching down, according to FlightAware.com. When it did land, it went off the right side of the runway, flipped over and burst into flames, according to Deputy Alex Burchetta.
Witness Jay Sills took photos of the crash scene shortly afterward. "The pilots are the ones who have to make the split second decisions," Sills said. "And I just feel so bad for them because the plane is belly up and I was just hoping everyone is okay."
Ginny Dyche, a spokeswoman for Aspen Valley Hospital, said the facility received two patients who were involved in the crash. She later said they were transferred elsewhere. She said one patient was critical and the other in fair condition, though deputies later said both were critical.
"The injuries were traumatic in nature, but they were not thermal," Burchetta said. "So the fire never reached inside the cabin as far as we can tell."
The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport remained closed with no ETA for reopening. The airport announced plans to take stranded passengers to DIA and Grand Junction Monday morning.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were expected in Aspen Sunday night. They may wait until daybreak to visit the crash site.
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, confirmed the plane was a Canadair CL-600, a midsized private jet. The aircraft is registered to the Bank of Utah in Salt Lake City, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. Bank officials did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
Allen Kenitzer, an FAA spokesman, said the plane was headed from Tucson, Ariz., and crashed upon landing. Officials said the crash happened at 12:22 p.m. MST.
A plane with the same tail number took off at 6 a.m. MST from the airport in Toluca, a city 35 miles west of Mexico City, before stopping in Tucson, according to a Mexican federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Tucson International Airport officials didn't immediately have more information. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach airport officials in Colorado were not immediately successful.
The crash prompted Twitter responses from two celebrity witnesses, who confirmed to The Associated Press that they sent the tweets.
Country singer LeAnn Rimes Cibrian tweeted via (at)leannrimes on Sunday: "So sad! Horrible plane crash we just saw happen at the Aspen airport."
Comedian Kevin Nealon sent a series of tweets about the crash through (at)kevin-nealon.
His first one said, "Horrible plane crash here at Aspen airport. Exploded into flames as it was landing. I think it was a private jet." Later he tweeted, "Airport is closed now. I think I'll drive back to LA after seeing that."
Tom Renwick, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction, said snow showers were reported in the area Sunday afternoon, but not at the airport. He said it has been overcast all day with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees.
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)