ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Despite significant damage, no injuries were reported after two small planes collided in midair, in part because one of the planes deployed a parachute to help soften its crash landing, according to the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office (ACSO).
South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) and ACSO both said units responded to the area of East Belleview Avenue and South Cherry Creek Drive around 10:30 a.m. That's just south of Cherry Creek Reservoir.
June Cvelbar happened to be walking at the park right at that moment.
"I saw two planes in the sky," she wrote in an email. "I saw a larger green plane, which I thought was a tow plane, along with what I thought was a glider being towed by it. I heard a noise but didn't realize that the two planes had collided."
Initial reports indicate that a Cirrus SR-22 with two occupants and a Swearingen Metroliner SA226TC with one occupant collided in midair about four miles north of Centennial Airport around 10:25 a.m., a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it appears the collision happened while both planes were in the process of landing.
Cvelbar said she saw the green plane fly off and shortly after saw the smaller plane deploy its parachute and initially thought it was some sort of training.
"When I realized that the small plane was going down I ran toward it," she said. "The pilot and his passenger were up and about."
Braun Mincher, a pilot of Cirrus aircraft since 2013, said he landed his plane at Centennial Airport just moments before this midair collision. Cirrus aircraft are equipped with the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, or CAPS. It consists of a ballistic rocket-fired parachute.
"It is the only general aviation manufacturer that includes this standard in every single single engine airplane," Mincher said.
According to Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), there have been more than 100 saves with over 200 survivors in aircraft equipped with the CAPS.
"If this was any other aircraft other than a Cirrus that was involved in this midair collision, there would be at least two people that lost lives," Mincher said.
> Listen to the air traffic control audio:
After deploying the parachute, the Cirrus plane landed safely, the FAA said. There were no fires or fuel spills at that scene, a sheriff's office spokesperson said.
"This was amazing," said John Bartmann, a spokesman for the sheriff's office. "We've had several plane crashes in our jurisdiction, never have we seen a parachute deploy and bring the plane down safely."
He also said that two occupants in the Cirrus were fine and did not need to go to the hospital.
The Cirrus plane is part of the fleet operated by Independence Aviation, which is a Cirrus Training Center based at Centennial Airport. The company issued the below statement:
"Independence Aviation was alerted this morning to an incident involving one of the company’s aircraft near Centennial Airport. We are actively participating and cooperating with local authorities including the FAA and NTSB. At this time we do not have any additional information to share. If more information is made available and deemed appropriate to distribute to the public by authorities we will. We are very thankful there were no injuries during the incident and everyone is on the ground safely. Thank you to the local authorities and first responders to the scene."
> Watch a video of the landing below:
The pilot of the Swearingen was able to land at Centennial Airport, according to the FAA. Photos of that plane show a large hole in the body of the plane toward the rear.
Small planes collide in midair
The FAA and NTSB will investigate.
As part of the investigation, they will be collecting debris that fell from the aircraft. Anyone who finds any is asked to call the sheriff's office at 303-795-4711.
>> Watch the video below: 9NEWS aviation expert weighs in on the landing.
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