Private Plane Crashes in Aspen, Kills 18

A private airplane flying from Los Angeles crashed tonight as it approached Aspen, Colo., one of the nation's premier ski areas.

All 18 people on board the Gulfstream III died in the crash, officials with the Aspen Mountain Rescue and the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office said. Three of those on board were crew members, said Allen Kenitzer, a Federal Aviation Administration official in Seattle.

Some of the victims were still strapped to their seats, witnesses reported.

The plane, which was flying to Aspen from Los Angeles International Airport, went down northwest of the airport near Highway 82, at around 7 p.m. local time, witnesses said. Wreckage was strewn over about 100 yards near Aspen's Sardy Field.

The airport is three miles from the town of Aspen and eight miles from Snowmass Village. Both Aspen and Snowmass are well-known ski resorts.

Narrowly Missed Landing On Road

Madeleine Osberger said that she was driving on the highway from Snowmass Village and saw the airplane in what appeared to be its final approach before it crashed. She turned a corner and saw flames.

"It had misjudged the runway 30 to 50 yards before the runway where it seemed to have gone into the hillside," Osberger said. "I don't know if it hit the mountain or if it just skimmed it with a wing but the pilot did manage to avoid the highway."

Osberger said she thought weather may have been a factor in the crash. "It was snowing very hard and then there would be a break in the clouds so obviously the pilot thought that he had the break in the clouds and could make it in safely," she said.

Gulfstream Called Reliable Plane

ABCNEWS aviation expert John Nance described Gulfstream as "an incredibly reliable series of small private jetliners that rival Boeing in terms of their reliability."

"They simply don't have any history of flight-control failures, hydraulic problems, any problems. It just doesn't happen with Gulfstreams," Nance said.

Nance described the flight from Los Angeles to Aspen as a "cakewalk" but he added that "Aspen is a challenging airport" because it is surrounded by mountains.

"It's a demanding approach without much room for error," Nance said.

Nance said possible scenarios that could have led to the plane's crash were human error, an onboard mechanical error or a chance that the plane was starved for fuel.

ABC affiliate KNGH contributed to this report.