ANGEL FIRE, N.M. (AP) — The pilot of the single-engine plane that crashed during takeoff in 55 mph winds, killing four people, had been warned against leaving the northern New Mexico ski resort because of the gusts, airport officials said Monday.
But airport manager Harvey Wright said the pilot, identified as San Antonio aerospace engineer John Phillip Verhalen III, "felt comfortable with his abilities and the aircraft. And given as we are not policemen, we can't ask him for the keys."
Wright said winds were gusting at 55 mph when the plane crashed at about 1:24 p.m. Sunday, killing Verhalen, 33; his sister, Sara Verhalen, 41; her daughter, Chloe Marie Jameson, 13; and the pilot's girlfriend, Jennifer Warren, 26.
"They were returning after a ski trip, they had stayed there with cousins," said the pilot's father, Phillip Verhalen, of Scottsville, Texas, who said he lost his only children and only grandchild in the crash.
Verhalen said he spoke with his kids Sunday around noon and they said it appeared to be a good day to fly.
But there were strong gusty winds across northern New Mexico Sunday afternoon and "we had all kinds of warnings posted on the front desk, plus we questioned the pilot as to whether he really wanted to go in that weather," Wright said.
No other flights came in or left Sunday afternoon, he said.
Verhalen III was an aerospace engineer and his sister worked in human resources for a large company in the Dallas area, their father said. He declined to name the companies for which they worked. No plans for their return or funeral services have been made so far, he added.
The plane was registered to Verhalen Flyers in Scottsville, which is about 150 miles east of Dallas.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.