A father and daughter whose plane crashed in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park must have had angels on their shoulders, for they were able to walk away with only minor injuries while their aircraft was demolished.
Jim Michaels, 54, of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and his 18-year-old daughter, Tonie, spent a cold night in the park's backcountry before being rescued this morning, park officials said.
The search for their plane began Thursday evening after park rangers received a call from the Civil Air Patrol that an emergency locator transmitter had gone off in the park's Forest Canyon, a thickly timbered section of the park west of Estes Park and south-southwest of Trail Ridge Road.
CAP officials said they had received ELT alerts at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and again at 4:24 p.m. that indicated a plane might have gone down near Milner Pass. While rangers initially scanned the area with binoculars from Trail Ridge Road, they saw no smoke or debris.
Around 8:00 p.m. Thursday two Civil Air Patrol fixed-wing aircraft flew over the area and confirmed the ELT beacon in upper Forest Canyon. The spotters also reported seeing two points of light, possibly fire, in the same general area, the park reported today.
After that information was received park rangers began hiking into the area from the Gore Range Overlook off Trail Ridge Road. Rangers searched until 2:00 a.m. and resumed searching at 5:00 a.m. today. They reached the two victims at 6:40 a.m.
According to rangers, the impact of the crash folded the plane's wings back; the plane came to rest against a large fir tree. The cockpit was intact, but the canopy was sheared off, they added.
Neither Mr. Michaels, who was piloting the plane, nor his daughter lost consciousness in the crash, according to a park release. They got out of the plane because of concern that it might catch on fire. They spent the night in a shelter they built from debris.
The Michaels built two signal fires. At one point, when they saw a plane overhead, they splashed some airplane fuel onto the fire and tossed a tire on the flames to create black smoke, the park report said.
After rescuers reached the two, a helicopter from Grand Teton National Park that has been stationed at Rocky Mountain to assist with the Cow Creek Fire was able to land about a mile from the crash site and pick up the Michaels. No ambulance was requested.
While there was no imminent threat of the signal fires spreading, firefighters were sent to the scene to put out the fires.
The Michaels had left Oconomowoc on Wednesday and stayed in Greeley, Colorado, that night. The flight plan called for them to continue to Aspen, Telluride, Leadville and
back to Oconomowoc.
According to park records, there have been seven aircraft crashes with 11 fatalities since 1948, the last being in 2000 near Comanche Peak, where two died in the crash. There have been five aircraft crashes with 15 survivors since 1945, the last being in 1994 near Hallett Peak, with three survivors.