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Durango Flight Used Special Approach

March 14, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ The Continental Express plane that crashed near Durango on Jan. 19, killing nine, was flying a time-saving airport approach over rough terrain that only can be used with federal permission, a safety board official said.

The flight pattern is one of many possible causes being considered for the crash, said Alan Pollock, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman.

″We’ve already looked at the approach,″ Pollock said. ″We’ve ruled nothing out. It’s one of the many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.″

The special approach procedure took the aircraft toward the airport from the northeast, rather than from the southwest as other airlines approach, Pollock said.

La Plata County Airport Manager Ron Dent said the approach takes the plane over slightly rougher terrain but saves about 15 to 20 minutes per flight.

″In this case, their legs from Denver to Durango would be reduced 30 to 40 miles, saving them quite a bit of flight time, fuel, etc.,″ FAA representative David Laschinger said in a copyright story broadcast Sunday by KMGH-TV.

Dent said the northeast approach is not published in flight manuals and it is illegal for pilots to use the pattern without Federal Aviation Administration approval.

KMGH-TV reporter Dave Minshall said Trans-Colorado has had permission to use the special approach at Durango for a couple of years. He said representatives of Trans-Colorado and Continental Airlines declined to comment about the report.

Soon after the crash, Braniff and American West airlines applied for and received permission to fly the landing approach used by Continental Express, Dent said.

Pollock said investigators plan to compare that landing pattern with the southwest approach. ″We’ll be asking how this pattern differs from the other, if there’s anything in this approach that could be a problem and how long Trans-Colorado has been flying it,″ he said.

Trans-Colorado leases planes and crews to Rocky Mountain Airways, a Continental Airlines subsidiary that operates in Colorado as Continental Express.

Continental Express Flight 2286, carrying 17 people, had been given clearance to land at the Durango-La Plata County Airport when it crashed 10 miles east of Durango.

The pilot, co-pilot and seven passengers died. Many of the eight passengers who survived waded through waist-deep snow to get help.

The NTSB released a toxicology report Friday showing that pilot Steven S. Silver had a small amount of cocaine in his bloodstream and urine when he died in the crash.

Dr. Merrit Birky, an NTSB chemist at Washington, D.C., said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the significance of the finding.

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