Saturday, September 18, 2010

Crash on Pikes Peak Tangles Operations Over Cog Wheel Route Friday

A helicopter crashed on Pikes Peak on early Friday morning, with all four aboard injured but alive. The debris field closed the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway, also known as the Cog Wheel Route, along with the toll road running from Cascade to the summit. The four passengers were treated and released from the hospital in nearby Colorado Springs. The railway still operated trains on a shortened route and restored service to the summit house today. The toll road is also re-opened.

The crash happened around the 13,850 foot level of the 14,115 foot mountain famous for its history and its commanding vista over the eastern plains of Colorado. The highway, built as a carriage road in 1888, approaches the summit from the north and west. The railway, constructed in 1890, approaches the summit from east and southeast. Despite the different approaches, the crash managed to close both. "It's right where the Pikes Peak Highway comes within about 10 yards of the cog rail," Colorado Springs Gazette quoted the Search and Rescue spokesman Steve Sperry as saying Friday.

The helicopter's pilot, James Dirker, has over 35 year experience and, his company web site claims,
With over 27,000 hours of flight time, primarily in high altitude environments, Jim is recognized as an expert in high altitude and mountain flying.
He was flying a 1982 Aerospitale twin-engine model owned by JBD Enterprises of Eugene, Oregon. I confirmed from two sources that the helo was an AS355 F1, a model that carries an Allison C20F engine rated for 5,291 lbs maximum take-off weight. However, given the lack of air density, such a figure would be significantly reduced, something Dirker would likely take into account. On the other hand, the service ceiling for that model set by the manufacturer is 13,380 feet, meaning the rotary wing aircraft was likely at the outside edge of the performance envelope when it crashed. The FAA investigation is anticipated to take 6 to 12 months.

While the toll road remained closed Friday, the cog railway operated under "snow storm" rules which is where the trains run as far up the railway as possible, giving a discount to any riders who still opt for the adventure. Photos of the wreckage are available from Colorado Springs station KRDO for a short time.

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