SAN LUIS, Colo. – The bodies of a Canadian couple killed in a plane crash in the southern Colorado mountains won't be recovered until spring because of treacherous weather and the threat of avalanche.
Costilla County officials say the bodies of 67-year-old Gerrit Maureau of Calgary and his 65-year-old wife, Sheila Malm, will be recovered when it is safe to send a recovery team to Vermejo Peak. That's where the couple is presumed dead in a plane crash on Dec. 20 while heading to Santa Fe, N.M., to spend the holiday.
Officials at first said recovery would begin this weekend. But a Christmas snowstorm, and a review showing the wreckage is located more than 1,000 feet higher on the peak than at first believed, makes it unsafe to try to recover the couple, said Costilla County Sgt. James Chavez.
Chavez said he talked to Malm's borther about the recovery problem last week and that relatives have been understanding about the need to delay.
"The family has been very understanding," Chavez said. "At this point we're at the mercy of Mother Nature."
The couple's 58 Beechcraft Baron plane went missing on Dec. 20 at Vermejo Peak, near the New Mexico border. At first, Chavez said, recovery officials thought the wreckage was at an elevation of about 11,500 feet, but a subsequent air search revealed the wreckage is at about 13,000 feet.
At that elevation, the recovery becomes very dangerous, especially with several feet of snow, Chavez said. The peak has gotten more than a foot of fresh snow just in the last week.
The threat of deadly avalanches in the Colorado mountains is real. On Saturday, two Colorado snowmobilers died in an avalanche near Rocky Mountain National Park, about 300 miles north of the plane crash.
"To put searchers at that kind of risk is not something we're going to do," Chavez said.
Maureau was president of MaurOil International Inc., a consulting firm for energy companies, and a former president and chief executive of the Canadian Petroleum Institute.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. Chavez said it would be at least March, and probably later, before the bodies of Maureau and Malm could be recovered, but that officials would review weather conditions this winter in case the situation changes.