By P. Solomon Banda
DENVER — A sheriff's department plane carrying inmates collided with another small craft in the air over western Colorado on Wednesday, but both landed safely and no injuries were reported, authorities said.
"This is truly one of those miracles," said Allen Kenitzer of the Federal Aviation Administration. "Usually with a midair collision you have very serious damage and very serious injuries, if you have survivors at all."
One of the planes was a Mesa County Sheriff's Department single-engine Cessna 210 carrying two inmates, a deputy and a pilot. The other was a single-engine Cessna 180 with two people aboard.
Authorities could not say which parts of the planes came in contact, describing it only as a collision. The cause is being investigated.
The 180 is registered to Miel del Rio Grande Inc. in Monte Vista. Kat Siglinger, an employee, said she spoke after the crash with company owners John Haefeli and Thomas Haefeli, who were on the plane.
"They told me the collision tore off their tail," she said. "And that was at 10,000 feet in the air. They were pretty relieved."
FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said he could not release radar records indicating how high the planes were flying because they are part of the investigation.
The planes collided about 15 miles southeast of Grand Junction and 190 miles west of Denver, Fergus said. The sheriff's plane landed at Grand Junction Regional Airport and the other in a remote area about 10 miles south of the airport.
Sheriff's officials said a federal inmate and a state inmate were being flown to the Canon City area, home to state and federal prison complexes.
That plane made a hard landing back at the airport and suffered front-end damage, either from the collision or the landing, the sheriff's office said.
Sheriff's officials identified the pilot as Andy Gordon, a pilot since 1962, and Mesa County Sheriff's Deputy Lisa McCammon.
The other plane came to rest on its top amid sagebrush and scrub oak at the foot of the towering Grand Mesa. A medical helicopter crew spotted it, landed and determined that both people were all right, sheriff's spokesman Chuck Warner said.
That flight originated in southern Colorado, though it was unclear where it was headed, said sheriff's spokeswoman Heather Benjamin.
The plane did not have a vertical stabilizer - the tail fin on the back - but it was unclear whether it was lost in the air or while crash landing, Benjamin said.
Kenitzer and National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams both said they did not have any additional information.
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The plane was made in 1955, according to registration records. A call to National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams was not immediately returned.