Training at Embattled Crested Butte Airport
Cold and Windy
Conditions, State-Of-The-Art Ambulance Aircraft
Emergency Airlift Exercise recently took place at the Crested Butte (CO)
Airport. A Beechcraft Super King Air B200 Flight-For-Life Air Ambulance
flew in from Denver to participate in a training exercise organized by
Crested Butte Surgeon Dr. Thomas Moore and Allen Bailey of the local
Fire Protection Department.
It was the very first time for twenty Crested Butte EMTs (Emergency
Medical Technicians) and Search and Rescue volunteers to receive
advanced training in Flight-For-Life operations. A Mt. Crested Butte
Police officer also participated despite the cold wind.
Denver Flight-For-Life Nurse David Kearns (RN, MS, Clinical RN1)
presented for almost two hours a hands-on training session emphasizing
patient preparation for the evacuation flight and patient loading in and
out of the aircraft.
The veteran flight nurse also demonstrated some of the medical
technology available as standard equipment in the air ambulance fixed
wing aircraft (defibrillator, ventilator, etc.). Kearns, who serves as
medical crew on both rotary and fixed wing aircraft, stressed that
helicopters are not always available and are used mostly for short
distance evacuations. He added that fixed wing aircraft, such as the
Super King Air, offer a much better environment (larger cabin, better
and more equipment) for the flight nurse and flight surgeon to preserve
life of critically injured patients.
Flight-For-Life Captain Dan Alsum, who flew the Super King Air B200 from
Denver, was happy to note that the Crested Butte (3V6) runway was in
excellent condition and equipped with runway lights for 24 hours,
year-round operations; and stated that such a runway would no doubt save
lives in the community.
Alsum added, "if the Crested Butte runway is to be shortened this
aircraft would not be able to operate here anymore." [While 4500
feet sounds like a lot of runway, remember that the airport's elevation
is 8980'! --ed.]
Also scheduled to participate was the Twin Commander 690A Air Ambulance
from St. Mary Hospital in Grand Junction (CO). Because of an actual
medical evacuation that Wednesday afternoon, the St. Mary crew had to
cancel at the last minute.
Note that due to the wind conditions Wednesday evening, the departing
Flight-For-Life aircraft had to take off uphill (runway 29). This is
important to note, because there have been several attempts by the
County to ban uphill takeoffs, in order to build an access road for a
planned high density development (Buckhorn Ranch) of more than 500
units. The prevailing winds in the Crested Butte area are uphill.
The Crested Butte airport was built in 1975 by local resident Ron Rouse.
The 4,500 feet long runway was fully re-paved in 1997. Since 1996 the
airport has been available year 'round to emergency medical airlift
evacuations (which comprise 80% of airport operations), to business and
visitors to the area.
Airport Under Attack
airport is concerned that Gunnison County (which surrounds Crested
Butte) and a real estate developer are trying to destroy 500 feet of
paved runway and restrict the airport usage to only 15 local pilots. The
airport was actually scheduled
to be closed yesterday, but a judge ordered a bond, for
$223,537.32, to keep it open. We called the airport yesterday, and a
recorded message assured us that the airport IS OPEN. The bond should
keep the airport open, until an anticipated ruling by the Colorado Court
One potential emergency scenario included a traffic accident blocking
highway 135 at the East River bridge, just south of Hidden River Ranch
and cutting road transportation between Crested Butte and Gunnison.
All the participating Crested Butte Emergency Medical Technicians and
Search and Rescue volunteers voiced their concerns in having the Crested
Butte airport shortened by a road or closed altogether.
an exclusive ANN interview, FBO owner (and part-owner of the
airport) Carlo Cesa gave us some background. Here's what we understand,
from our conversation:
In 1999, a developer petitioned the county to get permission to put a
road, for access to 528 housing units, enough for 1500 people, across
the runway. No one notified the airport that the petition was going to
be heard. The FBO owner just happened to see the notice; and he put a
stop to the idea, on property rights and safety bases.
The developer then sued the county. In last year's election, the
developer approached the candidates to reconsider. The new
commissioners, under the influence of consultant Rick Dunkleberg (from
OKC, we're told) said, after a closed site visit, that the runway was,
in fact, too long, and would have to be shortened, for safety!
The day after the secret meeting, the commissioners announced a public
meeting for January (2001), in which they voted (2-1) to shorten the
runway by 490 feet, and then restrict the use of the private airport to
a maximum of fifteen unnamed local pilots! The contract for the sale of
the airport (1996) specifically laid out that it was fine to have
gliders, flight training, and all kinds of other, normal airport uses.
[We were told that the same developer who sold the FBO lot, retired
dentist Dr. Landy, is the one who now wants to shut the airport down
--ed.] The judge, now sitting on the district court, used to be in a
firm that represented Dr. Landy. He has recused himself in all the other
lawsuits that revolved around this issue -- except this one. The judge
said that (in April 1999), until details of the lawsuit could be worked
out, the airport buildings had to be removed, and put in the custody of
the developer. The hangar was then flattened, and left where it
stood, for a year and a half. The office building was removed, and sold
by the developer to another party, and is currently a gift shop. The
gift shop owner was once a witness for the developer, against the
The commissioners have been playing hanky-panky for a time. In
neighboring Gunnison airport (GUC), for instance, five clicks on the mic
would light up the VASI and the approach lights, but not the runway
lights. Welcome to the black hole! Later, the county lifted the
"curfew," provided the pilots used their own lights only.
Beechcraft Super King Air B200 Air-Ambulance
-- Max Take Off Weight: 12,500
-- Fuel Capacity (std.) 3,645 lbs.
-- Useful Load 4,140 lbs. Maximum Payload 1,540 lbs.
-- Power Plant two P&W Model PT6A-42, thrust 850 SHP (Shaft Horse
-- Crew Pilot 1, Medical Crew 2-3, Patients on stretchers 2
-- Dimensions: Length 43.9 ft. Height 15.0 ft. Wingspan 54.6 ft. Cabin
Volume 256 Cu Ft.
-- Performance: Rate of Climb All Engines 2,140 FT/MIN at seal level,
Max Cruise Speed 294 knots.
Twin Commander 690-B Air-Ambulance.
-- Max Take Off Weight: 9,675
-- Fuel Capacity (std.) 2,573 lbs.
-- Useful Load 3,175 lbs. Maximum Payload 1,600 lbs.
-- Power Plant two Allied Model TPE 331-5-251, thrust 717 SHP (Shaft
-- Crew Pilot 1, Medical Crew 2, Patients on stretchers 2
-- Dimensions Length 44.4 ft. Height 14.1 ft. Wingspan 46.8 ft. Cabin
Volume 184 Cu Ft.
-- Performance Rate of Climb All Engines 2,821 FT/MIN at seal level, Max
Cruise Speed 286 knots.