Witnesses: Pilot jumps from plane as it crashes at Boulder Municipal Airport

It was like a scene out of a James Bond movie.

Pilot takes off, notices trouble with the engine, banks hard, clips wing, and leaps from the plane seconds before the aircraft slams into the ground, bursts into flames and sets a field on fire.

Pilot walks away â apparently unharmed.

That, according to friends Ulrich and Joan Hauser, is what happened to Jason Patton as he was taking off from Boulder Municipal Airport Monday, while giving his newly purchased Kitfox Classic 4 experimental plane a tryout on a brilliant, blue-sky day.

Or there’s the version of the story in which Patton, 37, crash-lands his $20,000 home-built kit plane near 57th Street and Woodbourne Hollow Road northeast of the airport, catches a wing on a post, spins the aircraft around and steps out of the plane after it comes to a rest in a field. It then bursts into flames.

Cmdr. Phil West, of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, said that’s the story Patton told one of his investigators after the 1 p.m. accident.

Whichever version is closer to the truth, there’s little doubt that it was a hair-raising day for Patton, a resident of Albert Lea, Minn., who lives with his wife and children in Guatemala and works there as a Christian missionary.

Ulrich Hauser said Patton noticed that his engine didn’t sound right as he took off east from Runway 8 and that the aircraft wasn’t gaining the proper speed.

“The propeller went in reverse, and he realized he couldn’t stop the plane before it went beyond the boundaries of the airport,” Hauser said.

Patton, who refused to be taken to a hospital, got into a minivan shortly after the crash and declined to talk to a reporter.

Hauser said Patton was planning to fly his plane to Minnesota and then drive it from there down to Guatemala.

Firefighters sprayed down about an acre of charred grass just beyond the airport’s northern boundary early Monday afternoon, as the ruins of the Kitfox Classic 4 smoldered inside the burn zone. One wheel lay 20 feet away from the aircraft while the other had rolled downhill into Jim Kozlowski’s gravel driveway.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking to see something like that,” said Kozlowski, who has two young children who weren’t home at the time of the collision.

Grant Von Letkemann, who has lived at the northeast edge of the Boulder Municipal Airport in the Rustic Knolls neighborhood for 40 years, said he was in his backyard talking with someone when he heard what sounded like a struggling plane engine.

“I made a comment to the guy who was with me that the pilot better do something or he’s in trouble,” Von Letkemann said. “He just lost altitude before he pancaked into the field.”

He said he called 911 and told the operator to contact nearby Boulder Rural Fire Department out on the Diagonal Highway. After a few minutes, when he didn’t hear any sirens approaching, he called 911 again and found out that they had dispatched Boulder Fire Department to the scene.

“It was surprising, because Boulder Rural is quick,” Von Letkemann said.

The confusion over jurisdiction may have been due to the fact that the plane crashed just north of the airport boundary on a patch of private land in unincorporated Boulder County, right along the city line.

Von Letkemann said despite the fact that he’s seen “several” plane crashes at the east end of the airport over the years, he’s not worried about one crashing into his living room any time soon.

“I just figure it will hit one of the other homes first,” he said with a laugh.

The FAA is investigating the crash.

Archived comments

DAMN that is hard core!


11/24/2008 2:09:32 PM

Ghost Rider in the sky.


11/24/2008 2:25:55 PM

Practicing for his A-Team audition?

Will you buy me a lottery ticket?


11/24/2008 2:44:44 PM

Was the pilot’s name Wile E. Coyote?


11/24/2008 3:30:44 PM

Why would the propeller go in reverse?

How is that even an option on a plane?


11/24/2008 3:41:01 PM

That is hard core. I am glad he was ok. You rock dude


11/24/2008 3:42:40 PM

Why would someone jump out of a perfectly good airplane…oh wait, wrong joke.

11/24/2008 3:52:16 PM

He pushed the big red button in the cockpit that says “DO NOT under any circumstances EVER touch this button during flight”.


11/24/2008 4:03:33 PM

experimental plan bull crap.

It was a kit plane he built. All kit planes are called experimental

Unsafe piece of crap


11/24/2008 4:06:38 PM

Posted by Camera_Shy on November 24, 2008 at 3:41 p.m. :

Why would the propeller go in reverse?

How is that even an option on a plane?

I do not know the specific details of this plane or this incident.

But in general, many planes can vary the angle of the blades in flight which reduces or even reverses the thrust from the propellor.This is used as a brake upon landing or other times you want to slow down.

(All commercial jets have “thrust reversers” that really help you slowdown after landing.This is the big air-sounding noise you often hear just after touch-down.

11/24/2008 4:09:55 PM

I blame lawyers:If litigation hadn’t driven most of the manufacturers of small aircraft out of business people wouldn’t be flying these “kit” planes.


11/24/2008 4:19:28 PM

Why would the propeller go in reverse?

How is that even an option on a plane?


Because when he was winding the rubber band before take off, he got the whole “lefty loosy, righty tighty” thing mixed up.


11/24/2008 4:23:20 PM

Better than the new 007 movie.


11/24/2008 4:23:41 PM

I had no idea Chuck Norris was in town.


11/24/2008 4:27:25 PM


1. Cut the throttle

2. Lean the mixture to zero

3. kill the magneto switches

4. when all else fails…Its called a “fuel shutoff valve”

Lots of ways to stop a plane’s engine that is out of control.Only one of them needed to work.

as far as “reverse the propeller”.Hmmm, that’s a stumper.Variable pitch propellers don’t “go backwards” unless something very very basic was wrong or broken.The runup sure should have indicated that type of catastrophic failure.

Had this thing ever been flown?Maybe the propeller was installed backwards.


11/24/2008 4:40:11 PM

holy crap — I’ve been a pilot for 25 years and I’ve never even heard of such a thing!You ROCK!

11/24/2008 5:03:00 PM

boulder_native is a female cleansing product …. nice to comment so critically on a situation thatoccurred while you were in your jammies.

11/24/2008 5:04:49 PM

Stop being a know-it-all.

It’s easy to say what would’ve worked after the fact. Obviously the guy new what he was doing to a point.

The guy had the guts and the smarts to jump out before it was too late, which many people wouldn’t have done.

He should at least get some props for that.


11/24/2008 5:34:21 PM

knew, not new.


11/24/2008 5:35:56 PM

you’re both right. he should’ve cut-off the engine using either the mixture or the fuel-cutoff, but it’s hard to think in those situations. i have no idea what happened, but i’m guessing it’s not something you train much for.

the best comment here was from the person who blamed lawyers. she’s absolutely right. in the name of “safety” we sue the living daylights out of companies, and now the only aircraft anybody can afford to buy are those build by amateurs. yup, the tort system really makes us all safer.


11/24/2008 5:50:37 PM

I have to say, I think it would be against my better judgment to ride in one of these:


11/24/2008 6:08:23 PM

you build it you fly it.


11/24/2008 6:16:10 PM

Toughest dude in Boulder right there.I want to do a bourbon shot with him.


11/24/2008 6:26:31 PM

Native, maybe he didn’t do a runup?


11/24/2008 7:15:44 PM

how doese a proper go back words thatis right i cant spell


11/24/2008 7:38:24 PM

same way a car goes backwards; he obviously had the damn thing in reverse!


11/24/2008 7:46:42 PM

“Hauser said Patton was planning to fly his plane to Minnesota and then drive it from there down to Guatemala.”

Apparently the freeways leading out of Minnesota are wider than those in Colorado.Or maybe they have special airplane lanes.I wonder if you need 2 people in the plane to use them.


11/24/2008 8:10:01 PM

Kitfox’s are nothing but trouble. Some homebuilt aircraft have good reputations (ie, Vans RV’s) but unless a craftsman/mechanic on top of his game builds it, the odds are not good on a first flight. Glad the guy made it


11/24/2008 10:05:50 PM

“The FAA is investigating the crash.”

Isn’t that the NTSB’s job?


11/24/2008 10:22:13 PM

I’m pretty happy that these guys get to endanger everyone’s lives by flying their dangerous pieces of crap over our houses whenever they feel like it.


11/24/2008 11:12:31 PM

How many planes crash into houses per mile flown, vs how many cars crash into houses, pedestrians, other cars, power poles…EVERYBODY PANIC!

11/25/2008 6:27:58 AM

A Christian missionary from Guatemala must make a pretty good living.

11/25/2008 6:37:29 AM

“Had this thing ever been flown? Maybe the propeller was installed backwards.”

If the propeller was installed backwards then how did he get airborne?Propellers dont just all-of-a-sudden go in reverse.It could have been an illusion.Who knows what he saw when the adrenaline is pumping.

Also, if there was confusion over fire protection jurisdiction, thats pretty ridiculous.There’s a plane crash, and a fire…two pretty serious incidents.Who cares who does the paperwork?Get the job done first, THEN figure it all out later.


11/25/2008 7:39:52 AM

Many aircraft have reversible propellers – I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a King Air and the pilot can actually back it up!


11/25/2008 8:00:58 AM

stever23: “But in general, many planes can vary the angle of the blades in flight which reduces or even reverses the thrust from the propellor. This is used as a brake upon landing or other times you want to slow down. (All commercial jets have “thrust reversers” that really help you slow down after landing. This is the big air-sounding noise you often hear just after touch-down.”

This is true, but variable-pitch blades start to be an option on more expensive airplanes. They will go from a point where they draw little air through them (flat) to a more aggressive pitch that draws a lot of air through them. Also, I think you are wrong about reverse-pitch to slow a light airplane down — having the push-back from the front-center (light aircraft) would be much more unstable than two+ engines pushing-back on the wings of a heavy at the mid-point of the airplane.

Dude is pretty awesome/lucky, though!


11/25/2008 8:18:06 AM

Wow, I am impressed.Seriously.Many relatively calm posts with some technical input.

Only one brief whiny post (PCR).I thought the “shut the airport” down crowd would be all over this.

Yep, everybody’s life is in danger.Let’s cancel commercial aviation!

11/25/2008 9:35:52 AM

PCR: Boulder airport has been in operation since the 60s, at least. (And I note that back then, there wasn’t much around it.) You know how many times an airplane has destroyed private property near the airport in the last 50 years, let alone killed somebody (other than a pilot)? I’m pretty that (a) it’s zero and (b) you have no goddam idea either way. People like you should really live further up in the mountains…


11/25/2008 11:30:41 AM

John Denver went down in one of those

balsa-flyers a few years ago.Shame.


11/25/2008 1:00:30 PM

Things like this happen in Boulder.

11/25/2008 2:20:31 PM

yragnam: “Things like this happen in Boulder.”

Is that supposed to mean something? Do you wait until you can post something void of any thought?

I’ve seen different people post this and it’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve seen. And people continue to do it. WHY???


11/25/2008 2:30:50 PM

ImInBoulder…I’ve also noticed that this gets posted on about every article that draws any interest.My inclination was to think it is a running gag, making fun of people who actually would put that as their comment.


11/25/2008 2:51:00 PM


…(sputters) … but then they would be making fun of themselves!


11/25/2008 3:12:04 PM

John Denver did not kill himself in a Kitfox you moron.He was stupid and that was what killed him – not the airplane.

We can all run wild guessing about what happened here, but until the investigation is complete that is pointless.Just because an airplane is labeled “Experimental” or “Homebuilt” does not imply anything about the quality of workmanship or ability for the thing to fly.They are just labels that define the class or category of the airplane.The pilot and builder skills are the key components in the equation.Every time someone says an airplane is an experimental, all the fools start waiving their hands and panicking about nothing.Get a grip.The F-22 is also classified as “Experimental” – and I doubt that you would call that a scary and unsafe bag of sticks.

With regard to the topic of homebuilt vs production safety – I have seen several production aircraft delivered from Cessna, Piper and Mooney that scared the bejeeeezus out of me in terms of factory certified quality (or lack thereof), that I would never even consider flying in.On the other hand, most homebuilders are incredibly meticulous and talented craftsmen.I have flown several homebuilts and I have to say that most of them are usually better built and safer than the Scarebus tin can that you will fly on to visit grandma for the holidays.

This guy walked away from a potentially fatal situation, so he will get the benefit of the doubt from me on the pilot issue.As for the rest, I’m more than willing to wait for the investigation to be completed.


11/25/2008 4:59:33 PM

what’s a missionary doing with a $20,000 kit plane?


11/25/2008 10:36:00 PM

marlboroman….Rumor has it that John Denver was getting into MDMA a few years before he died. Dude probably fell asleep at the peak of a serotonin flood, at the height of the Rocky Mountain High he was finally looking for. Shame about the lake being there for the rude awakening. I do love that guy, though.


11/25/2008 10:41:46 PM

Bay, not lake. JD crashed in Monterrey Bay, California.


11/26/2008 10:15:42 AM

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