John Denver Tribute

On October 12,1997 : John Denver dies at the age of 53.

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PACIFIC GROVE, California (AP) -- A pilot was killed Sunday in the crash of a single-engine plane owned by singer John Denver, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The identity of the pilot, recovered by a lifeguard in the Monterey Bay, was not immediately known. However, Denver himself is a licensed pilot.

Jeanie Tomlinson, managing director of Windstar, the environmental group co-founded by Denver, said the singer hadn't returned her phone calls Sunday night.

"We wait and see and we keep the most good thoughts we possibly can that he's okay," she said, adding the singer also owns a home in the Monterey-Carmel area of California.

Messages left at Denver's Aspen, Colorado, home by The Associated Press were not immediately returned Sunday night.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Aitkins said identifying the victim would be difficult as the body was unrecognizable due to fatal injuries caused by the crash. The Coast Guard completed its search for debris for the night, but planned to resume at daybreak.

"We'll search tomorrow for more clues," Aitkins said. "But at this point it's almost like a John Doe case. We have a body but it's unrecognizable. We won't know right away unless someone comes forward and says they know who was on that plane."

Lt. Dave Allard, spokesman for the Monterey County sheriff's department, said an autopsy would be conducted Monday, including a check of dental records and fingerprints. Toxicology tests, standard for fatal crashes, also will be conducted, he said.

Allard would also not comment on the identity of the victim, but said "there has been contact with people who are either knowledgeable about or related to the individual."

The plane, made of fiberglass with a single engine and two seats, was considered an "experimental" aircraft, and was possibly home-built, said Pacific Grove police Lt. Carl Miller. It took off from Monterey Airport shortly after 5 p.m., with the first reports of a crash at 5:27 p.m. Its destination was unknown.

The plane was flying about 500 feet in the air "when it just sort of dropped unexpectedly into the ocean," Miller said. "When it hit the water it broke into numerous parts."

One witness told KCBA-TV that she saw a puff and heard a "popping" sound prior to the crash.

"(The plane) kind of went up a little bit and absolutely straight down, not spiraling, just absolutely straight down," said Carolyn Pearl. "I thought it was doing some kind of acrobatic move, or something, and then realized it wasn't."

The plane crashed about 100 yards off rocky shoreline in the bay just north of Monterey, and near a jut in the land known as Lover's Point.

Denver established himself as a star in the 1970s with his melodic, light folk-pop with hits like "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Rocky Mountain High," "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

He was named Country Music Entertainer of the Year in 1975.

Denver was in a previous plane accident in April 1989. He walked away uninjured after the 1931 biplane he was piloting spun around while taxiing at an airport in northern Arizona.

In 1995, a flight instructor sued Denver for a runway run-in at Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming. The instructor alleged the singer was piloting his Christen Eagle in 1994 when the airplane taxied into the flight instructor's Cessna.

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