Aspen: $5,000 reward for finding propeller |

Aspen: $5,000 reward for finding propeller

Charles Agar
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Aspen Times photoJoey Stokes of Aspen shows off the prop he and a friend discovered in the hills above Ruedi Reservoir. The prop fell from a single-engine plane in December.

BASALT, Colorado ” Joey Stokes always wanted to go on a treasure hunt.

And when he heard there was a reward for a lost airplane propeller in the hills above Ruedi Reservoir, Stokes, 20, an Aspen High School graduate and CU-Boulder student, took to the hills. He was joined by a co-worker from Taster’s Pizza in Snowmass Village, Heather Hall, 28, and the day’s hunt netted the pair a $5,000 reward from local pilot Barry Cox.

On Dec. 26, 2007, Cox was flying with three passengers in his single-engine Piper Malibu en route to Denver when the prop fell off, spewing oil on the front windshield.

Cox glided the powerless plane more than 12 mile to Aspen’s airport and landed by looking out the side window. No one was injured.

In the wake of the crash, however, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said that without the missing prop they couldn’t determine the cause of the incident was a manufacturer or mechanic’s error.

For months, the truth rested somewhere in the hills above Ruedi Reservoir, east of Basalt, and the missing prop was the vital evidence Cox needed to recover some $80,000 in airplane repairs, Cox said.

So in July, Cox put a GPS map of the search area on a website ” ” and posted a $1,000 reward.

More than 20 people called asking about the missing prop, and Cox later raised the reward to $3,000, but no one was able to find it.

It turns out they were searching in the wrong place.

NTSB officials had incorrectly estimated the location where the prop fell off, Cox said.

And on the very day Cox updated the map on his website and raised the reward from $3,000 to $5,000, Stokes and Hall set out on their search.

Following a mobile GPS to hone in on the search area, the pair bushwhacked all day Tuesday in the hills above Ruedi.

At 3 p.m., they took a rest just short of where Cox believed the prop had landed.

The two had begun searching the ground and the brush for the prop about a mile before they had search area, Stokes said.

But what happened next Hall called “dumb luck.”

When they stood up from their water break, the pair spied the prop lying in an open area.

“It was just out in plain site,” Stokes said.

And so began an all-day odyssey carrying the heavy, awkward prop out of the backcountry, following a slightly longer ridgeline route that meant fewer peaks and valleys, Stokes said.

He estimated the prop at a little over 50 pounds, but added, “It gets heavier when you’re carrying it for four hours.”

The two kept up good spirits during the hike, laughing at themselves and the ridiculous nature of their mission (and a little giddy about the reward too).

They reached their car just at nightfall, called Cox, and on Wednesday morning the treasure hunters had cash in hand.

Neither of the treasure hunters knew what they’d do with the reward they’re splitting.

“I haven’t really thought about it yet,” Hall said. “I was just out for a hike.”

But she added she might go on a vacation.

For Cox, it means a chance to recover the costs of his new engine, and he immediately shipped the prop to NTSB investigators in Washington, D.C.

“Hopefully they’ll come to a conclusion of who’s at fault,” Cox said.

If it’s the engine manufacturer, Continental, Cox said he’s sure to get a check, but if it’s the now-bankrupt Mississippi company that worked on his plane that caused the problem ” he estimated it likely mechanics might have tightned the bolts on the prop too tight ” he’s preparing for a long push to get the money from an insurance company.

Regardless, Cox said he’s happy to have the case of the missing prop closed.

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