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Voice recorder recovered in Colorado crash

Plane crash site in Aspen, Colorado, on Friday

Names of 18 victims still withheld pending notification of families

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'Gee, that thing is very low'

Airport difficult to approach


ASPEN, Colorado (CNN) -- A team of aviation experts has arrived in Colorado on Friday to investigate the crash of a chartered plane that hit the ground Thursday short of the runway near Aspen, killing all 18 people aboard.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Arnold Scott said searchers had recovered the Gulfstream III's cockpit voice recorder.

Watch part of the news conference with Aspen plane crash investigators and coverage from CNN's Mike Boettcher and Carol Lin

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Aspen crash scene

"The flight crew did tell the airport they had the runway in sight," Scott said, adding that it appeared the chartered aircraft had been in line with the runway at Sardy Field Airport, about a mile northwest of Aspen.

Scott said the bodies of all 18 people aboard the plane had been recovered. At least two of the victims were news staffers at Los Angeles television station KTTV. They have been identified as assignment editor Mir Tukhi and news desk assistant Marisa Whitham.

The plane was chartered from Burbank, California, on Thursday and made a stop at Los Angeles International Airport before taking off for Aspen at about 4 p.m. Two hours later, the plane was down just 500 yards short of the runway.

Owned by a California production company, the plane was usually chartered out to politicians, people in the entertainment industry and corporations, according to Marc Foulkrod, president of Avjet Corp., the plane's operator.

A fire blazes in the wake of the plane crash  

Officials said the Coroner's Office was still contacting family members of the people who had been aboard the plane. The bodies must then be positively identified before the names of the victims would be released.

"It may be a day, two days or even longer before final notification occurs," said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.

Asked if any of those aboard had been celebrities, Braudis said he "didn't recognize any of the names as celebrities."

'Gee, that thing is very low'

Witnesses said the plane struck a hill and then plunged across a 200-foot culvert between the hill and the airport before slamming into a bluff, known as Shale Bluff, short of the runway.

Avjet president Marc Foulkrod speaks to reporters Thursday  

"It was probably about 200 feet in front of me and 100 feet in the air and it lurched," witness Greg Reszel told The Associated Press. "It was going very, very slowly, so much so that for a minute I thought it was a helicopter.

"There was no noise, I heard no engine noise, and then after that lurch it was almost vertical in the air and it went across the road and slammed into the hillside ...," he added.

Ron Harding was with his wife and four other people traveling from Snowmass, Colorado, to Aspen when the plane flew over their car and then out of sight.

"We thought, 'Gee, that thing is very low,'" he said. "Before anybody could think too much, we heard a loud noise and saw a massive fireball."

"By the time we got around to the other side of the hill, it was just fire everyplace, debris going up and down the hill, some going out onto the highway," he said.

Airport difficult to approach

Firefighters said a small fire was burning when they arrived. Debris, including pieces of seats, insulation and the fuselage, was scattered for at least 300 feet.

The debris showed the plane lost its tail when it hit the hillside and fell apart as it plunged across the culvert.

A statement from the airport said the plane was attempting an instrument landing as it approached the airport.

CNN Correspondent Charles Feldman, a licensed pilot, said the Aspen airport is difficult to approach. Surrounded by Rocky Mountains towering as much as 3,500 feet above its lone runway, the airport warns approaching pilots that "high rates of descent may be required due to terrain."

"Mountains and valleys create turbulence," Feldman said. "That create updrafts and downdrafts that make (the atmosphere) less stable than it would otherwise be."

CNN Meteorologist Karen Maginnis said some snow and rain were in the region at the time of the crash.

The airport has an elevation of 7,815 feet.

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Pitkin County Sheriff's Department
Federal Aviation Administration
  • Aspen-Piktin Airport
  • Plans for busy ski season at Aspen-Pitkin Airport
  • Guide to High Mountain Flying
  • Plane info | 360° tour
AvJet (Executive Jet Charter, Aircraft Management, Sales and Leasing)
National Transportation Safety Board
AirNav: Aspen-Pitkin Co/Sardy Field Airport
Pitkin County Sheriff's Office
Los Angeles International Airport

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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