Pilot of Ebersol Jet Didn’t Order Wings De-Iced

Times Staff Writer

Federal officials investigating the charter jet crash that killed the son of NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said Tuesday that the pilot did not have the wings de-iced before trying to take off.

The accident at Montrose Regional Airport, about 40 miles north of Telluride, Colo., killed three people: Edward “Teddy” Ebersol, 14; the pilot; and a crew member. Dick Ebersol, 57, was injured in the Sunday accident, along with son Charles, 21. The copilot was critically injured.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 3, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 03, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Colorado plane crash -- An article in Wednesday’s Section A about the Colorado plane crash that killed a son of NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said the aircraft had attempted a takeoff in snowy weather at high altitude, where the air is less dense and more lift is required to achieve flight. It should have said that at a higher altitude, a plane needs greater speed or its wings must be at an increased angle to gain the necessary lift.

National Transportation Safety Board inspectors said they were looking into whether ice or factors such as mechanical failure played a part in the accident.


The NTSB has recovered the cockpit voice recorder. It contains 31 minutes of conversation between the pilot and copilot leading up to when the plane spun out of control on the runway and crashed through a fence, trees and plowed into a ditch. A team of investigators will review the tapes.

Much of the attention Tuesday focused on ice. The plane tried to take off in snowy weather at a high altitude, where the air is less dense and more lift is required to achieve flight.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the twin-engine CL601-1A Challenger jet was not de-iced, but added that it was not clear whether it needed to be.

“No one recalls asking the pilot if he needed de-icing, or if he requested it,” he said.

Steve McLaughlin, who works for MTJ Air Services, which de-ices planes at the Montrose airport, said: “We normally don’t offer to de-ice; the pilots ask. He didn’t ask as far as I know.”

A small amount of ice can significantly degrade a plane’s flying ability, experts said.

“It only takes ice the thickness of a piece of sandpaper to decrease lift by 25% and increase drag on the airplane,” said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “The likely scenario is this plane had ice on its wings. It was sitting there for an hour; there was heavy snow that came across. It has all the ingredients of an icing accident.”

Rasmussen said ice not only weighed down a plane but could unbalance it, causing it to slide or flip. Witnesses reported seeing the jet sliding down the runway.

But Dave Kempa, a pilot and president of Air Denver, a worldwide charter aircraft referral service, said the Challenger’s engines were powerful enough to take off even with icy wings.

“The extra weight of ice and snow shouldn’t have made a difference; it should have been able to bully its way through,” Kempa said. “It looks like the plane aborted takeoff. Something mechanical probably happened, and they figured it was better to stay on the ground. But the snow and ice didn’t enter into the calculation.”

Kempa said the plane probably skidded on a slippery runway and spun out of control.

The pilot, Luis Alberto Polanco Espaillat, 50, of the Dominican Republic, attempted to take off from the shorter of two runways. “If he had used the longer runway, we wouldn’t be talking now,” Kempa said.

Along with the pilot, crew member Warren T. Richardson III, 36, of Coral Gables, Fla., died. The copilot, Eric Wicksell, 30, of Daytona Beach, Fla., remains in critical condition at a Denver hospital.

Dick and Charles Ebersol emerged from the crash hurt but alive. Teddy’s body was found Monday night, pinned beneath the wreckage.

The surviving Ebersols are at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., in satisfactory condition. Dick Ebersol is married to actress Susan Saint James.

The family issued a statement Tuesday thanking people for support, offering sympathies to the families of those killed and mourning the loss of their son, whom they described as a “warm, loving, energetic young man.”

“We will miss Teddy, our sweet boy forever,” the statement said. “His wonderful spirit lives on in our family, and in all who ever knew and loved him.”

The family described their grief as “unfathomable,” but praised Charles for pulling his father from the wreckage.

“That anyone was able to survive this horrible accident is a miracle, and all of us will forever be inspired by Charlie’s act of courage and bravery,” the statement said.

Bob Wright, chairman and chief executive of NBC Universal, said in a statement Tuesday that Teddy Ebersol was a “delightful boy, and a devoted Boston Red Sox fan.”

“Words cannot express the depth of a parent’s anguish when a child’s life is abruptly taken, and all of us at NBC Universal share their grief,” Wright said.