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.