CARLSBAD — The tail end of a small plane was spotted Thursday by investigators about a mile from the site where officials suspected a plane had crashed on Guadalupe Peak Tuesday.
Because of the rough terrain, the wreckage was not inspected , said Federal Aviation Administration Public Affairs Manager Lynn Lunsford. There was no way to confirm if the tail section is part of an old crash or if it is connected with the fire that blazed on the mountainside Tuesday night.
Emergency response teams initially believed the fire, which started around 6 p.m. Tuesday, had been caused by a plane crash. However, officials with the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that no wreckage could be found by search crews at the site of the fire.
The is expected to conclude their investigation into the incident, that left 30 acres of wooded escarpment at scorched, in the next two days.
The damage done to the wildland by the fire was extensive, Guadalupe Mountains National Park Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jackson said.
Trooper Moises Vasquez with the Texas Department of Public Safety said reports from the high-altitude plane dispatched to take pictures of the fire indicated only hot spots, or areas that were on fire, but not debris from wreckage.
“All they (pilots) were able to really confirm was that there were several hotspots, probably fire,” Vasquez said. “(Pilots) were taking images from high-altitude using a thermal camera and what they were able to observe that night from our end was images on the thermal camera that may have or may have not included debris.”
Currently, the Texas DPS is not involved in the assessment of the site.
Jackson said they are not ruling anything out as far as what caused the fire.
“The fact is that if it was a forest fire event that it wouldn’t have ignited that rapidly or in that large of an area. We just don’t have any answers yet,” Jackson said.
Finding those answers was made difficult by the poor flying conditions and rocky terrain on the mountain, a news release from the park said.
“There is currently no information available about the cause of ignition. Speculation remains that some kind of aircraft could have struck the mountain. The FAA is continuing the investigation,” the release said.
Eric Ahasic, meteorologist with the Midland/Odessa National Weather Service station said no weather event such as lightning was recorded at the peak which could have sparked a fire.
“Conditions were favorable for fire up there,” Ahasic said. “It’s been pretty dry and you definitely have dry grasses and fuels to work with.”
The spread of a wildland fire was one of the major concerns Tuesday night when the the fire was first reported, Jackson said.
A two-man emergency crew sheltered in place Tuesday night to help keep an eye on the flames that stretched a half-mile. The fire was contained by the next morning, allowing federal investigators to ascend the Guadalupe Peak trail and survey the fire site.
Investigators will attempt to reach the tail section wreckage before making determinations, but Jackson said it is possible the wreckage is the remnant of an old crash.
The Guadalupe Mountains have been the scene of many plane crashes, including a WWII B-24 bomber that crashed into the side of the peak on Dec. 31, 1943. Since 1991, there have been three fatal plane crashes in the Guadalupe Mountains, according to data from the FAA website.
Jessica Onsurez can be reached at 575-628-5530.
Read the initial breaking news story here.
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