John Denver Did Not Have Valid Flying License at Time of Fatal Plane CrashBy DAVID KLIGMAN
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ John Denver’s flying license was suspended at the time of his death in a plane crash because he had twice been arrested on drunken driving charges, federal investigators said today.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Matt Furman said Denver did not have a valid license because his medical certificate was denied. It is a federal requirement that pilots must have a valid medical certificate in addition to a pilot’s license to fly legally.
Denver was arrested twice on drunken driving charges in Colorado in 1993 and 1994. He pleaded guilty to the earlier charge and there was a hung jury on the second. He was to face a retrial in January.
The Federal Aviation Administration pulled Denver’s medical certificate in June 1996, barring him from flying.
Under FAA rules, he would have to petition the FAA for the return of his license with proof he no longer suffered from an alcohol problem.
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 Sunday when his plane crashed into Monterey Bay.
Sheriff Norman Hicks said tests for drugs or alcohol are done routinely in accidental deaths, and results were expected in 10 to 14 days.
Meanwhile, divers today recovered the engine of Denver’s plane from the bay, pulling it out of 40-foot-deep water just off shore.
Finding the crash’s exact cause will take at least six months, George Petterson of the NTSB 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. Denver’s aircraft was built by Rutan Aircraft in Mojave, Calif., according to a woman who answered the telephone at the desert facility. She wouldn’t give her name.
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 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.″