At 9:23am, on March 3rd, 1991, United Airlines Flight 585 left for Colorado Springs from the Stapleton International Airport in Denver ( from Peoria, Illinois to Colorado Springs via Moline and Denver ). The 737 carried 20 passengers ( including the body of a deceased man whose body was being transported back home for burial ) and five crew members, including Captain Hal Green and First Officer Patricia Eidson. It was a fair but windy day, with low level wind shear warnings as the plane prepared to land at the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport.
At 9:43a.m., after approaching the 35-acre Widefield Park below, just a few miles short of the airport, the plane suddenly nose-dived into the western edge of the park, creating a 39-foot wide, 10-foot deep crater. All aboard were killed instantly - the plane had nearly disintegrated, with the remaining wreckage scattered about the park and nearby residences ( including the nearby Kokomo Apartments, which the plane missed by 100 feet ). One of its residents, 8-year-old Michelle Summerson, who had been standing in a stairway at the time of the crash, was knocked down by the force. The windows of several homes were also blown out by the blast.
A severe wind shear was initially believed responsible, though eventually the National Transportation Safety Board cited a rudder system malfunction as the probable cause. This particular rudder was also believed responsible for another plane crash, the US Air Flight 427 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania on September 8th, 1994, which killed all 127 passengers and 5 crew members. Additionally, on June 9, 1996, Eastwind Airlines Flight 517 experienced loss of control due to a similar malfunction. All planes were Boeing 737s and these accidents led to the eventual discontinuation of this rudder model.
Back at Widefield Park, a gazebo was built housing a memorial stone upon which the names of the victims were engraved on a metal plaque. The names are as follows:
Bonnie Bachman, Dan Birkholz, Andy Bodnar, Mildred Ann Brown, Lisa Church, William Crabb, Clay Crawford, Jo Crawford, Trish Eidson, Robert Geissbuhler, Jr., Pam Gerdts, Hal Green, Fred Hoffman, II, Herald Holding, Maurice Jenks, Michael Kavanagh, Kevin Kodalen, Andrzej Komor, Anita Lucero, Paula McGilvra, Vincent Riga, Lester Ross, Monica Smiley, Peter Van Handel, and Takashi Yoshida.
In 2006, when I moved from Manitou Springs to live with James in Widefield, I had never been to the park previously, which lied just down the street from us. The crash came up during one of our late-night conversations. James had actually been home with his parents when it happened. They, like many of their neighbors, thought a bomb had gone off. He related to me stories of friends' windows being broken from the force of the explosion and the grisly urban legends concerning body parts being discovered in others' backyards. Naturally, I wondered aloud if the site was haunted, but James was only impressed with the heroics of the pilots, who were able to steer the plane away from the apartment complex in their final moments. James told me of the gazebo, and I still couldn't help but feel a morbid curiousity. Were all of those souls at peace? With such a sudden, traumatic death, was it possible that there were some who didn't know they were deceased, and were still bound to the site? At the very least it seemed as if there would be a residual haunting, whereby certain events and noises would keep repeating themselves over and over in time due to the extreme energy imprinted over that particular area. Say for instance every March 3rd one might hear the explosion under certain circumstances, perceive pieces of the wreckage, detect the scent of the burning, perhaps even feel the force of the impact. I was certain the area would be magnetized with extreme psychic energy, so certain that I was at first fearful of going, of tapping into such an overwhelming trauma.
By fall of that year, we would explore the paranormally active Colorado Springs City Auditorium together for the first time as The SpiritChasers. I was planning a Halloween party, hoping to include an authentic ghosthunt as one of the highlights. We planned to pass out EMF detectors, laser thermometers, digital voice recorders, dowsing rods, pendulums, infrared cameras and other tools I had aquired on eBay for our guests to use. I would be working on a DVD invite for the party which incorporated footage from our investigation of the City 'Aud. We were also filming additional scenes in the style of a late-night paranormal informercial, very public-access and over-the-top. Everything was synchronistically coming together, so I made James, in the middle of one night, take me to Widefield Park to scout out the terrain as it seemed the perfect candidate for a group ghosthunt.
As is often the case with many supernatural hotspots I've been to, I immediately began to sense a feeling of confinement, of energies pressing in on me, a physical prickling sensation, an intuitive red light when I feel I am under observation. We took no equipment with us that first time, and as we neared the gazebo, one of the nearby park lights began winking on and off. It was not a motion-sensitive light, and this would not be the first time this happened. Later, when visiting with my cousin Denise, who would appear on an episode of BIO's "My Ghost Story" with me years later, the same thing occured. James and I entered the gazebo and I began to read the names of the deceased from the memorial stone. I quickly began to realize that this was more than just a possible ghost story, that this was in fact a great tragedy, that many lives beyond those I read had been affected. I felt a great sense of loss, and the heavy psychic trauma I was concerned about began bearing down on me, so much so that I began having second thoughts about leading a ghost tour through here. It seemed disrespectful and dishonest. Still, I needed to make some sort of contact for myself.
The night of our party, our "SpiritChasers" program having been a successful lure, I began feeling an overwhelming protectiveness regarding the park and memorial site. Some of our guests began to ask when our ghosthunt would be underway. I brushed off their inquiries, distracting them with paranormal television shows, taking their pictures with a disposable "ghost camera", ghost stories, appetizers and alcohol. As it grew late, some guests began to depart, allowing a grateful relief that no one insisted on our promised ghosthunt. One of our party-goers had arrived in an intricate Marie Antoinette costume, and I simply couldn't fathom leading them about the park in that get-up regardless.
Four nights later, on Halloween, 2006, James and I returned to the park with a digital camera, voice-recorder and EMF detector. We didn't anticipate aquiring any evidence of the afterlife, we were simply attempting to tap into the energy of the surroundings and the real people behind the tragedy. Once again, in the trees near the gazebo, the same light blinked on, then intermittently began turning on and off as if in a kind of morse-code response to my questions. The park was completely silent, but eventually we began to hear whispers and voices. James began snapping photos whenever the EMF detector went off, and I followed the voices about the park, the both of us witnessing dark shadows playing about the field. We believed we were making authentic contact with something beyond our realm, and my questions turned from general inquiries regarding their presence to apologies for the trauma they suffered.
We went home, turning on a live Ghost Hunters presentation from The Stanley Hotel, also in Colorado, while James made hot cocoa for us and I began to go through the digital images he took. I'll never forget the elation I felt when the first of the inexplicable images materialized in front of me. James rushed over to look at the viewfinder with me and we watched as a bizarre slideshow of the supernatural began to play out before us. Ectoplasmic-like forms swirled above and around us, unattributed to breathing, moisture, camera straps or fog. As fledgling ghosthunters, we already knew these things could contaminate our shots, and we were therefore very careful when taking them. We also began to notice little pinpoints of light hovering above the ground near the crash site, luminous orbs we knew were not insects or dust particles. James had always been the most skeptical of us, and he was convinced we had a genuine paranormal experience. I already felt in my being that we had experienced something otherworldly, and I was already looking forward to more adventures into the unknown.
The next year, we went back with a close friend, who was studying to become a parapsychologist. The spirit photographs we took were even more dynamic, and I was certain that this was more than just a residual haunting, that there was in fact another form of consciousness there which was trying to establish contact with us. In another synchronistic event, a friend called me regarding his own personal story regarding the crash. He had been living at the Kokomo Apartments when it occurred, and was able to procure some pieces of the wreckage, which he eventually buried under one of the trees in the park due to a number of poltergeist-like experiences he experienced before doing so. He felt the pieces were cursed in a way, but invited me to dig them back up with him to see what type of activity would present itself to us afterward. Again I struggled with the lack of respect attached to such a venture, knowing full well it could make for some great material for our next SpiritChasers Halloween Special, but I inevitably declined. I was too attached to those souls, as was James, so we decided to leave some mystery behind.
We returned to the park in the spring of 2012. After dark I recited the names on the memorial stone and in the flash from James' digital camera I was able to see the face of a man standing before me, a face we had captured in an earlier photo. I also found out the reason behind all the activity taking place in the special grotto of ash trees near the gazebo, as I never knew until then that each tree had been planted in honor of every life lost in the crash.
We blessed them as we had always done, and finally, after years of spiritchasing and investigations at other Colorado haunts I was finally able to see past the tragedy. I looked past the typical ghosts and electromagnetic oddities and instead focused on the consciousness of the area, of nature itself. I had recently been watching some videos a woman had recorded concerning her experiences with what she beleived were "sprites", fairies, earth energies. I had no perceived outcome, I was simply calling forth whatever happened to be there willing to show itself to me. The images I began to capture began to show what I at first thought were insects, even though I knew it was still too cold for them to be there. After enlargement, I discovered they were something else, luminous and fairy-like. One even had its arms outstretched as if welcoming me. I also captured a number of orbs unlike any other in all of our years doing this. These had a particular structure and color, and were larger than any I'd ever photographed previously.
I still remain protective of this place and its inhabitants. Though I have moved back to Manitou with James ( now living near Briarhurst Manor - also the site of a Ghost Hunters investigation ), I deeply miss the park and will always think of it as the site where we made first contact. We've gone on numerous summer walks in this park, watched the geese gather in the nearby lake during spring, witnessed the last solar eclipse from here, and enjoyed the autumn scenery as the trees put on new seasonal displays for us year after year. But no matter what we were doing, we always left in a state of respect and gratitude, thanking those responsible for adding to the strange beauty of life.
The following YouTube link from March of 2011 details the events of the airline tragedy and can be copied and pasted into your browser.
- Christopher Allen Brewer, July 2012
- Christopher Allen Brewer, July 2012