NBC Sports Executive Survives Plane Crash in Colorado, but Son Is Missing

Times Staff Writers

A charter jet crashed on takeoff Sunday morning from a small airport north of Telluride, Colo., killing at least two people and injuring NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, his son Charles and an unidentified person.

The pilot and copilot were killed. Another Ebersol son, Teddy, 14, was missing. Police used helicopters to search for him late Sunday. The seat he had occupied also had not been found.

The CL-601 Challenger aircraft crashed at Montrose Regional Airport, outside the ski resort town of Telluride in southwest Colorado.

Authorities said the plane was carrying six people when it smashed into a fence and then punched through brush, cedar trees and finally a drainage ditch at the end of the runway.


Witnesses said the cockpit and a wing were ripped off as the plane skidded. Others said the plane burst into flames.

Montrose Memorial Hospital officials would not elaborate on the conditions of those who were hurt, but sources familiar with the situation said Dick Ebersol’s injuries appeared to be serious but not life-threatening.

Leann Tobin, a hospital spokeswoman, said the plane “essentially exploded,” causing injuries too severe for the hospital to handle. The three survivors were transferred to medical facilities in Grand Junction, Colo., and Denver.

“Their families have asked us not to say where they were sent,” Tobin said.


Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Safety Transportation Board headed for the airport, 185 miles southwest of Denver, on Sunday. The investigation could take months, officials said. The pilot and the copilot were not identified.

Dick Ebersol, 57, had been in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and for the USC-Notre Dame football game Saturday.

The NBC executive was believed to have flown Sunday from L.A. with his wife, actress Susan Saint James, and the two sons to Telluride, where he dropped off his wife. The others were to fly to South Bend, Ind. Charles Ebersol is a senior at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

FAA regional spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the plane was departing for South Bend about 10:15 a.m. in light snow when the accident occurred. A storm had dumped about 3 feet of snow on Telluride before the accident.

“It crashed on, or shortly after, takeoff and went through a fence at the end of the runway,” Kenitzer said. “I’m not sure if weather played a role; that’s what the investigation will tell us.”

A witness, Chuck Distel, said he saw a man he later identified as Charles Ebersol help Dick Ebersol through the wrecked front of the plane, according to Associated Press. Distel told AP the younger man cried and yelled, “Oh my God, oh my God!”

Telluride is a remote, former mining town in the shadow of the San Juan Mountains. Over the years it has become popular with celebrities and top executives.

Dick Ebersol is a creative and financially astute TV executive, according to peers and rivals, who also have long lauded his ability to motivate and inspire.


In recent years, NBC Sports has dropped out of costly rights-paying arrangements with such properties as the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball.

Ebersol and other NBC executives had come to share the belief that changes in the television landscape, including the onset of the cable universe, had so changed the nature of the business that it would become far more problematic to make a profit with pro football, basketball and baseball.

Under Ebersol, NBC has pursued a different course -- for instance, locking up the rights to be the sole U.S. broadcaster of the Olympic Games from 2000 through 2012, in a sequence of landmark deals that total $5.7 billion.

The first three installments of that package -- in Sydney in 2000, Salt Lake in 2002 and the Athens Games this summer -- have each made the network a handsome profit.

NBC’s coverage of the 2002 Salt Lake Games won 11 sports Emmy awards, a record for any Olympics, along with six prime-time Emmys for coverage of the opening ceremony.

“It is the breadth of Dick’s ability that is so impressive,” said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports who now runs a consulting firm, Pilson Communications Inc., in Chappaqua, N.Y. “He’s a truly creative leader. His people are intensely loyal to him and he’s an inspirational, innovative, creative executive.

“There are,” Pilson said, “really two in our industry who have that rare combination of skills. One of them is Roone [Arledge], and one of them is Dick.”

Dick Pound, a Montreal lawyer and former International Olympic Committee vice president who played a key role in negotiating some of NBC’s Olympic deals, said of Sunday’s crash: “We’re devastated to hear this. He certainly has taken Roone Arledge’s spot as the Olympic broadcaster.... Our prayers are with him and his family.”


Ebersol’s television career began as apprentice to Arledge, who later revolutionized televised sports in the 1970s at ABC. Ebersol took a break from his studies at Yale to be television’s first researcher at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympic Games.

Ebersol and Arledge, working into the early morning at the 1972 Munich Games, were only yards away when Palestinian terrorists sneaked into the Olympic Village -- setting in motion the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli coaches and athletes.

In 1974, after six years at ABC Sports, Ebersol moved to NBC, where he played a key role in launching -- and later serving as executive producer of -- “Saturday Night Live.”

He left the show and the network in 1985, returning in 1989 as president of NBC Sports.

Kelly reported from Denver and Abrahamson from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Meg James in Los Angeles contributed to this report.