The Thompson family was sitting in Aspen's airport early Sunday afternoon, waiting for their flight back to Houston, when 13-year-old Will heard shouting outside his earphones.
Outside the window, a small private jet had just crash-landed at the mountain-ringed Colorado airport. The crash killed a pilot and injured the two others aboard.
“All of a sudden, we look to the right and you see this private jet come in and turn into a fireball and go 500 yards down the runway, on fire," Will's brother John, 21, told the Los Angeles Times.
“Once it landed, it burst into flames and it did a couple rolls, side rolls, and it kept trucking down the runway. It just was a big fireball.”
Fire officials raced toward the two-engine CanadAir CL-600 jet, which sat smoldering and upside-down on the tarmac with only one wing. A column of smoke rose over the runway.
The flight had originated in Toluca, Mexico, and stopped in Tucson a couple hours before crashing in Aspen, according to federal officials and flight records.
When rescuers put out the fire and opened the door of the 22-seat aircraft, only three people were found on board, all of them pilots, Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, told The Times.
Burchetta said copilot Sergio Carranza Brabata, 54, of Mexico, was killed.
The two other pilots were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital. One suffered serious injuries, and the other moderate injuries, Burchetta said, adding that their injuries were due to the impact of the crash, not the fire.
It was not immediately clear why the plane crashed. A National Weather Service meteorologist refused to describe Aspen's weather to The Times, citing the crash and saying such information would be released through the National Transportation Safety Board.
The weather service's website, however, said that the area was under a "hazardous weather outlook" and that light snow and winds stronger than 20 mph were expected. Witnesses at the airport reported that the weather was windy around the time of the crash.
Two NTSB investigators were on their way to Aspen, spokesman Peter Knudson told The Times, adding that the plane had appeared to be attempting to land when it crashed.
The airport, known to be more difficult than average for some pilots, is about four miles northwest of Aspen, a ski-resort getaway historically popular with the rich and famous. When the jet crashed, the witnesses included comedian Kevin Nealon and country-music singer LeAnn Rimes.
Horrible plane crash here at Aspen airport. Exploded into flames as it was landing. I think it was a private jet.— Kevin Nealon (@kevin_nealon) January 5, 2014
An airport official told The Times that the airport would be "indefinitely closed," making Aspen's remoteness into a potential liability for the travelers looking to get out of town.
Burchetta, of the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, told The Times that United Express, Delta and American Airlines were making alternate arrangements to take passengers out of town.
After the crash, however, Nealon tweeted, "I think I'll drive back to LA after seeing that."
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