LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — Two planes collided midair in the Denver metro area on Wednesday, bringing back memories for a Pueblo man who survived a similar crash 40 years ago.
Steve Kinnett was preparing for his 100th skydive in April 1981 when a commuter airliner slammed into the side of the Cessna that he was in, splitting the aircraft into two pieces.
The commuter airliner had just departed the old Stapleton Airport, headed to Gillette, Wyo., with 10 passengers and three crew members on board.
“I was checking my altimeter and kaboom. It was like dynamite went off. The sound was loud enough to be the loudest thing I’d ever heard and the impact was huge,” Kinnett said.
Kinnett says when he looked behind him, the entire back half of the aircraft was missing.
“The wings were gone. The fuselage was gone. Three of the jumpers were gone. The pilots were gone. There was just two of us left on a piece of wreckage,” he said.
Kinnett jumped off the remaining portion of the plane and began a free fall that lasted about 15 seconds until his parachute opened.
He assumed the plane had exploded.
“I looked down at the ground. It was a smoking pit down there, and I didn’t have any idea we’d gotten hit by another aircraft. Our plane was chopped by the propeller of the other airplane and it was strewn over about a mile and a half,” he said.
It wasn’t until he was safely back on the ground that Kinnett learned two of his friends on the plane had been killed, along with 10 passengers and 3 crew members aboard the commuter plane.
“Unfortunately, they had 30 to 40 seconds where they knew they weren’t going to make it. It was front page news all over the world,” Kinnett said.
For years, Kinnett says he struggled with survivor’s guilt.
“Being the only one who wasn’t injured, it makes you wonder why I wasn’t injured,” he said.
However, he’s thankful he survived, and amazingly he was back up in a plane skydiving the next day.
“It was a parachute and the skydive that saved me. It was the airplane that almost killed me. That’s how I rationalize that it’s OK to skydive. I still skydive,” Kinnett said.
Kinnett has since made around 1,100 jumps out of an airplane.
The pilot and two others aboard that Cessna also survived the collision.
As fate would have it, Kinnett ended up on the same plane as the pilot and one of those skydivers seven or eight years later on the anniversary of the crash, a reunion they never planned.