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'He's an idiot': Pilot seen flying at boats at Horsetooth Reservoir before crash

Plane seen flying only feet above a boat on Horsetooth Reservoir
Incredible photos show plane flying only feet above a boat on Horsetooth Reservoir shortly before it crashed 02:47

A pilot is being described as reckless and careless by aviation professionals after crashing their aircraft shortly after flying erratically around Horsetooth Reservoir. After a CBS News Colorado report highlighted the Larimer County Sheriff's Office's request for images of the flight before the crash several people started turning over their images and videos to investigators. 


One photographer, Stephanie Stamos, said she witnessed the erratic flying while trying to photograph a client's senior photos at the picturesque reservoir.  

"I was up at Horsetooth doing a photo shoot for a high school senior," Stamos said. "All of a sudden I see this plane and it was coming in so low."

Stamos, of Stamos Fine Art Photography, is normally shooting portraits. But, she quickly found herself unknowingly documenting some of the clearest images the NTSB and FAA need for their investigation. 

In her images, you can see the pilot seemingly target at least boats that were in the water. The plane swoops down right toward a boat and comes within feet of hitting it before banking to the right to buzz past another pontoon boat. 

"He was so close to the boats I thought he was going to hit the boats. And when you see the picture, it was even closer than I thought it was. His wheel was almost right on top of the boat, and you can see the person in the boat with their hands up," Stamos said. 


Stamos happened to be photographing her client with an expensive lens that can zoom far. Her images were able to capture the plane's flight frame-by-frame. 

"You could see point-by-point," Stamos said. "The footage is incredible."

Stamos recalled seeing the pilot bank back and forth before climbing up and over the foothills. She didn't know the plane later crashed until seeing a CBS report, but said she wasn't shocked to hear it did. 

"I am not surprised," Stamos said. 

Both people aboard the plane walked away with minor injuries, something Sheriff Justin Smith called a miracle. And, the county avoided having to battle another wildfire that could've been caused by the crash. 

Aviation experts like Metro State University of Denver's Kevin Kuhlmann said the images likely prove the pilot was breaking aviation guidelines and laws before the crash. 

"That is the epitome of reckless and careless operation of an aircraft," Kuhlmann said. 

Kuhlmann, a professor with MSU's School of Aviation and Aerospace, said flying close to the water isn't illegal in some situations so long as there are not any boats or humans near the water. 


However, photos like those from Stamos clearly show the water was peppered with boats. And, with the warm weather, there were people on the beaches, trails and campsites nearby. 

"That is not permitted per the federal aviation regulations," Kuhlmann said. "You cannot fly in any way that would endanger persons or property on the ground if you were to lose the engine. It is an utter danger to those people in the boat and in the aircraft."

Stamos said, after witnessing the flight, she felt it was necessary to send her images to the LCSO, FAA and NTSB as part of their investigation. 

"(The pilot) was just being an idiot. He was flying close to the water to scare people," Stamos said. 

UPDATE: Pilot charged with nearly crashing plane into boats, investigators say he left the country

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