Longtime Refugio pilot dies in Colorado snowstorm plane crash
Feb. 20, 2012 at 7:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 20, 2012 at 8:21 p.m.
REFUGIO - A close-knit community is mourning the loss of a longtime pilot who coached people at Refugio County Airport for several years.
Hans Vandervlugt, 75, of Refugio was piloting a twin-engine Cessna 414A carrying five passengers en route to Yampa Valley Regional Airport about 125 miles northwest of Denver on Sunday when the plane crashed in a snow storm.
Vandervlugt and Gaby Humpal, of Corpus Christi, were killed, said Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg.
Also in the plane were Humpal's husband, Scott, and their three children.
The family was on their way to Steamboat Ski Resort.
Vandervlugt's death came as a surprise to James Henry, a former Refugio County commissioner, who knew Vandervlugt.
Henry said Vandervlugt moved to Refugio in 1972.
"We're pretty much shocked with it," Henry said. "He was a real professional pilot."
Vandervlugt flew airplanes and was a flight instructor for more than 50 years at the airport.
This was not the first time Vandervlugt had flown to the ski resort, Henry said.
Vandervlugt's wife, Ruth, who answered the phone at the Refugio airport, did not want to comment on the death.
"It looks like they bumped into some weather phenomenon that was not predicted," Henry added.
According to a 2010 Advocate story about young pilots, Vandervlugt enjoyed teaching younger students because he felt they were aviation's future.
"They're such a rare breed," he said in the 2010 story.
Scott Humpal, a physical therapist, suffered several broken bones. Their sons, 18-year-old Tad and 13-year-old Dillon, also had broken bones.
The family's 10-year-old daughter, Sara, suffered critical injuries and was flown to a Denver hospital.
A snow squall reduced visibility to less than a quarter of a mile just before the crash, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel told the Steamboat Today newspaper.
The newspaper said the plane came to rest in knee-deep snow and airport crews plowed a path to the wreckage for emergency responders.
The airport was closed to incoming traffic until Monday morning.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.