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John Denver Did Not Have Valid Flying License at Time of Fatal Plane CrashBy DAVID KLIGMAN

October 14, 1997

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ John Denver did not have a valid flying license when he died in the crash of his experimental plane in Monterey Bay, a federal investigator said today.

The folk singer’s license had been suspended, said National Transportation Safety Board spokeman Matt Furman. ``His medical certificate was denied. He didn’t have a valid license,″ Furman said.

The 53-year-old singer, known for his sunny hits from the ’70s such as ``Rocky Mountain High,″ and ``Sunshine on My Shoulders,″ was killed instantly in Sunday’s crash.

Pacific Grove Fire Department Division Chief David Brown said the recovery team hoped to finish gathering debris by early afternoon. The 200-pound engine and other debris will be studied to learn what made the experimental aircraft plunge into the bay. Several witnesses reported hearing a ``popping″ sound before the crash.

Finding the crash’s exact cause will take at least six months, George Petterson of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

Records show Denver bought the plane a day earlier from a man in Santa Maria, Calif., then flew it to Monterey, Petterson said. The plane, an experimental model called the Long EZ, was about 10 years old.

On Sunday he practiced landings, then told the air traffic tower he’d fly for another hour.

Denver apparently was distracted by his plane’s transponder, which lets a pilot key in a signal to the tower for radio identification. His first signal wasn’t picked up, Petterson said, so he tried again.

``His last words were, `Do you have it now?‴ he said.

Earlier in the day, his golfing buddies tried to coax him into another round.

``They finished and were at the clubhouse debating it,″ said Dale Taylor, assistant pro at the Spyglass Hill Golf Course. ``John said, `I’d love to play, but I got a new plane. I’m going to practice my landings and takeoffs.‴

The Long EZ, designed by Burt Rutan in the late 1970s, is built from a set of plans that can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.

NTSB records show 61 accidents involving the Long EZ since 1983, which killed a total of 21 people. Most were blamed on pilot error.

Denver had two drunken-driving arrests in Colorado and was to be tried on one of those charges in January. Sheriff Norman Hicks said toxicology reports are done routinely in accidental deaths, and results were expected in 10 to 14 days.

Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, N.M., where his father, an Air Force test pilot, was stationed. He took his stage name from the Colorado capital, where he eventually made his home.

In the mid-’60s, he was chosen from among 250 hopefuls as new lead singer for the Chad Mitchell Trio. He left in 1969 for a solo career.

``Take Me Home, Country Roads,″ released in 1971, has become West Virginia’s unofficial state anthem, while 1974′s ``Annie’s Song,″ written for his first wife, is a wedding standard.

Friends said the late singer was a passionate man who expressed himself best through the soothing music that made him a star in the 1970s.

Mary Travers _ who with Peter, Paul and Mary made a hit of Denver’s ``Leaving on a Jet Plane″ in 1969 _ said Denver offered an alternative to angry rock and helped bind the wounds of tumultuous times.

``I think he brought a sense of optimism, a sort of naivete we were thrilled to have after Vietnam, after Watergate, after the rising tide of cynicism of the 1970s,″ she said. ``He was talking about how beautiful it was in the mountains, saying, `There is another side to it all.‴

Fourteen of his albums went gold and eight platinum, with more than a million copies sold. ``John Denver’s Greatest Hits″ from 1973 is still one of the biggest-selling albums in the history of RCA Records, with worldwide sales of more than 10 million copies.

In 1976, Denver co-founded the Windstar Foundation, a nonprofit environmental education and research center.

``Music does bring people together,″ Denver said. ``People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same.″

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