Plane crash kills two-year-old boy
Despite suffering severe burns and a broken leg, the pilot of the plane, Christopher Aubel of Edwards, hiked an hour through the wilderness to find help.The plane went down in a high meadow close to the tree line near Sweetwater Lake, just west of the border between Eagle and Garfield counties.The rugged terrain forced an Army National Guard Helicopter to lower rescuers into the hard-to-reach wreckage, said Ron VanMeter, a spokesman for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.”It’s pretty remote,” VanMeter said.Macallen Johnson, 2, had died by the time rescuers reached the wreckage early Thursday afternoon, authorities said.The toddler’s mother, Laurie Johnson, 42, was airlifted from the wreckage and was in serious condition Thursday night at the Vail Valley Medical Center, said Deb Schalm, a spokeswoman for the hospital.Clyde Johnson, 42 -who was also airlifted from the crash -and the pilot, Aubel, were flown to the burn ward at University Hospital in Denver Thursday afternoon. They were also listed in serious condition, Schalm said.The Johnsons and Aubel are “very well-liked” members of the closely-knit Vail Bible Church, said friend and pastor Charlie Cummings. “The three of them are very valuable members of our church and really great people. They’re pretty important people.”Cummings described Clyde Johnson as “very athletic,” adding that Clyde and Laurie Johnson are “bright and engaging” people.Clyde Johnson is an insurance agent in the valley; Laurie runs an independent bookkeeping company.Aubel is a Xerox representative who works for High County Copiers in Eagle-Vail. Heis an avid cyclist and a snowboard instructor, Cummings said.The 1968 Piper PA 28 single-engine plane took off from the Eagle County Regional Airport at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Authorities said they were unsure of the group’s destination.Authorities did not learn about the crash until about noon, when Aubel, after hiking about five miles with a broken leg, found a overnight fishing group that had set out from the Sweetwater Lake Resort the day before.”It’s very heroic,” Cummings said.A wrangler with the group called for help on a cell phone and then took Aubel by horse to an ambulance, which was waiting about an hour away, said Adrienne Brink, an outfitter for the Sweetwater Lake Resort.”One man walked an hour out and met one of our wranglers. The wrangler put him on his horse and brought him out,” Brink said.The ambulance took Aubel to a helicopter that was waiting at the resort, which is about 10 miles up Sweetwater Road from the Colorado River Road, north from the Interstate 70 interchange in Dotsero.An Army National Guard helicopter on a training flight began searching for the plane early Thursday afternoon and soon found the wreckage, said Lt. Holly Peterson of the Colorado Army National Guard.”At that time they made a determination that people’s lives were in danger,” Peterson said.The Army National Guard crew transported two of the injured passengers to Vail Valley Medical Center around 1:30 p.m., she said.Several agencies were involved in the rescue, including the Gypsum Fire department, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Garfield County Search and Rescue, Vail Mountain Rescue, the Western Eagle County Ambulance District and the Colorado National Guard.Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were travelling Thursday from Salt Lake City Thursday to inspect the crash, VanMeter said.A prayer service will be held for the Johnson family and Christopher Aubel at 7 p.m. today at the Vail Bible Church, 39209, U.S. Highway 6 & 24, Avon.Editor’s note: Glenwood Post Independent reporter Dennis Webb contributed to this report.