CLEAR CREEK COUNTY - A single-engine plane trying to make its way through a valley at the Loveland Ski area made a hard left turn and crashed Monday morning, killing the three people inside the aircraft.

According to Loveland Ski area officials, the plane crashed a few terminals from the top of the Chair 5 lift line but did not hit the lift lines or damage the lift. It was also near the Third Valley lot.

"I was hiking up near Herman Gulch," witness Rico Argentati told 9NEWS. "I was about 11,700 feet up, and I just stopped to take a break, and I heard this plane coming up the valley. I knew right away it was too low. It flew past Herman Gulch trailhead ... it tried to turn around. It made a 180-degree turn to the left, and it dropped below the ridge of Mount Sniktau. And I said 'Oh my God, this plane is in trouble.' I was hoping it would come over the ridge, and it didn't. It crashed just on the other said of the ridge, and I saw a huge plume of smoke coming up."

It crashed on the edge of the trees. There is snow on the ground, so officials think that will help minimize the potential for fire.

Clear Creek County is investigating the single-engine aircraft crash and trying to help suppress the 40-by-40 yard fire caused by the crash. Still, the investigation is complicated.

"There's very little if anything left of the aircraft," said Capt. Randy Long of the Clear Creek Sheriff's Office.

That includes a lack of a tail number, to help investigators track down who the plane was registered to and who may have been piloting it. Based on the time of the crash and the direction the plane was traveling, the NTSB believes it took off from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield. A plane fitting its description left around 7:30 a.m. heading towards Moab, Utah—though, investigators were not sure if the pilot filed a flight plan.

They are now trying to track down who the plane belonged to, by using registration numbers on the surviving parts of the aircraft. Once that happens, the investigation will turn to the plane itself and the pilot.

"We take a hard look into human performance and we take a look at the pilot's background, experience. We look at the weather conditions," said the NTSB's David Bowling.

While it was a clear day, 9NEWS Aviation expert Greg Feith said flying over the mountains, during the summer, creates a special set of circumstances.

"The big issue with the density of air here in Colorado in the summertime is that as temperature goes up, the density air decreases," Feith said. "And airplanes are density altitude sensitive. That is, the more dense the air, the better the performance. The less dense the air, it has a significant reduction in performance, on both the capabilities of the wing to produce lift and the propeller to produce the thrust to cause the plane to fly. And pilots have to be aware of that, they have to calculate that-- because you can run out performance."

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Feith also said many planes that crash in that area do so because pilots follow the highway, thinking they have a clear path through the mountains. When they come to the Eisenhower Tunnel, they realize they have to turn left or right because they cannot go over the mountain. Feith said small planes do not have enough performance to out-climb the terrain, so the plane can stall out and crash. It is unknown at this time if this is the reason for Monday's crash.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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