Jennifer Frieling, 40, of Castle Rock, at 7 p.m. Oct. 28, was sewing a daughter’s Halloween costume when she heard an airplane engine that “sounded way too close.”
“I started getting up — and heard a boom,” she said.
Frieling said she opened the sliding-glass-door drapes at her home — which backs onto open space in the 1600 block of Aquamarine Way— and saw sparks above trees in a ravine about 100 feet away.
After calling 911, Frieling grabbed a headlamp and a flashlight and a coat.
She said out there in the fog, she could only see about 5 to 10 feet ahead of her, but soon spotted, down in the ravine, broken branches and then the plane’s red tail wing. And at 7:08 p.m. she called 911, again, to report a downed plane.
She said she started hollering down into the gulch, “Hello, can someone hear me?”
She said she heard nothing and was considering going down there, although she could smell fuel, “stuff burning,” when she happened to shine her flashlight to the right and saw someone about 15 to 20 feet away near the ravine’s edge.
Frieling said the woman, who appeared middle-aged, was flat on her back, arms out, perpendicular to her body, and she wasn’t moving. Still on the phone with dispatch, Frieling felt for a pulse and then saw the woman’s nostrils flair and Frieling asked if she could hear her.
“Then she moaned,” Frieling said.
She saw flashlights on the other side of the gulch. It was Castle Rock police officers, who then alerted firefighters, who were there in about 30 seconds, she estimated.
The woman she found was the pilot and sole occupant in the plane, later identified as Helen Cernik, 32, according to Karen McGrath, Castle Rock spokeswoman.
Castle Rock Fire Chief Art Morales later related that the pilot — who was conscious and able to tell them she was the only one in the plane and also told of icing problems — was unable to stand, so she had crawled out of her plane and then crawled about 30 feet to the side of the ravine.
She then crawled about 20 feet up the ravine’s side. She was found about 50 feet from the Frielings’ home.
Morales said the pilot had planned to land at Front Range Airport in Adams County, but because of icing problems radioed Centennial Airport and was on her way to land there when she hit the major north-south power lines that are about 100 to 150 feet above the ravine.
He said it looks like the plane, luckily, slid for a time along the steel-cable lines — which are built to withstand tons of ice, much more than the weight of the single-engine plane — and then the plane dropped into the ravine.
Morales said rescue personnel were able to get her to a nearby trauma center within about 45 minutes of the crash.
The crash remains under investigation.
The plane is a Glasair Aviation Sportsman GS-II experimental airplane, said Karen McGrath, a Castle Rock spokeswoman.
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said Oct. 29 the plane’s registration number is N535SP.
According to Flight Aware, a flight-tracking website, that plane left Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, Colo., at 5:45 p.m. It’s destination was Front Range Airport.
Dan Baker, deputy chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Central Region, told the News-Press Oct. 30 that investigators “were able to examine the wreckage yesterday and no anomalies were noted.”
He also said they were waiting for the pilot’s condition to improve before conducting an interview.
Morales said he expected the pilot would be released from the hospital in the next day or two.
Frieling, who said she and her husband built their home there in 2004 knowing it was under a flight path, said she loves watching the planes pass overhead. And her reaction to having a plane come so close to her home is that planes are everywhere. One could drop out of the sky anywhere and “if it’s your time, it’s your time,” she said.
“God is ultimately in control (so) I live life to the fullest each day and don’t worry about the ‘what ifs,’ ” she said.