October 13, 1997
His remains were positively identified by the Monterey County Coroner's Office through fingerprints obtained from the state of Colorado, Monterey County Sheriff Norman Hicks said. The National Transportation Safety Board was pursuing details on the cause of the crash itself, while the sheriff's coroners will be investigating the circumstances surrounding the cause of death, he said.
"We share a sense of shock and loss to our community, our nation and the world, and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the many friends, the family, and the many admirers of John Denver," Hicks said at a Monday news conference.
Denver was piloting the two-seat light plane along the California coast when the engine failed shortly after 5 p.m., plunging him into ocean waters just past Monterey Bay.
He was believed to be the sole person on board the single-engine fiberglass plane, which he owned. It was considered an experimental aircraft, said Pacific Grove police Lt. Carl Miller.
It took officials several hours to positively identify Denver's remains.
Denver owned a home on Monterey Peninsula, a coastal area south of San Francisco, and visited the area often, Hicks said.
Lt. Dave Allard, spokesman for the Monterey County sheriff's department, said an autopsy would be conducted Monday. Toxicology tests, standard for fatal crashes, also will be conducted, he said.
Teri Martell, whose sister Annie was the singer's first wife, had told CNN early Monday that Denver "was a very experienced pilot." Martell said Annie was told he was practicing taking off and landing when the accident occurred.
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.
Denver had 14 gold and eight platinum albums in the United States, and was popular around the world. According to Sony Records, Denver's current label, he is one of the five top-selling artists in the history of the music industry.
In addition to music and television awards, Denver also received recognition from several environmental groups for his advocacy of his beloved Rocky Mountains. Then-Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof named Denver the state's Poet Laureate in 1974. Denver lived in Aspen since the early 1970s.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Denver traveled throughout his childhood. After studying architecture at Texas Tech, he went west in 1965 to pursue a career in folk music.
His first taste of musical success was in 1969, when the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Denver's "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," which went on to become the Number 1 song in the country. Denver's voice first hit the charts in 1971, when "Take me Home, Country Roads" went to Number 2.
"Country Roads" was Denver's first million-seller. A string of hits followed in the 1970s, including "Rocky Mountain High," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "Annie's Song," an ode to his wife. They separated in 1983 and later divorced.
In 1977, Denver made his big-screen acting debut in "Oh, God," opposite George Burns. He made occasional acting appearances over the years, but was better known for his television specials. Denver appeared in several Christmas shows, including two with Jim Henson's Muppets.
In 1984 and '85, Denver was one of the first Western artists to tour the Soviet Union following a resumption of cultural exchanges with the United States. He was also one of the first Western artists to go on a multi-city tour of China, in 1992.
Standup comics and newspaper cartoonists leapt on a 1988 "Aviation Week & Space Technology" report that Denver asked Soviet space officials to launch him to the Mir space station. The cash-strapped Soviets were reportedly considering the idea, with a price of $10 million.
Denver's legal troubles have made headlines in recent years. Charged with driving under the influence in 1993, Denver pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of driving while impaired.
He was again charged with DUI when his Porsche ran off the road in his Aspen, Colorado, neighborhood in 1994. The trial for that charge ended with a hung jury in July 1997. Denver's defense argued that the singer's thyroid condition made alcohol tests unreliable.
In August 1997, "The Best of John Denver Live" reached Number 47 on the country album charts. It was Denver's first chart appearance since 1988.
John Denver crash report points to fuel problems
Web posted on: Tuesday, June 23, 1998
While drawing no firm conclusions, the NTSB report stated that Denver's homemade Long E-Z plane was almost certainly low on fuel when -- according to witnesses -- it sputtered, nosedived and crashed 150 yards from shore. The report also said that the plane's fuel selector handle -- which switches the fuel flow to a backup tank -- was in a hard-to-reach location, making it difficult for the pilot to reach it and make a switch if the primary tank ran dry.
Denver, known for such popular 1970s hits as "Rocky Mountain High," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and "Sunshine On My Shoulders," died in the October 12 crash. A five-member NTSB board will study the report to determine a probable cause for the accident.
Low on fuel
The report says fueling records show that the plane was most likely low on fuel when Denver took off from the Monterey Peninsula Airport in the late afternoon to practice takeoffs and landings.
Denver bought the plane the day before the crash. After he bought the plane, but prior to the crash, the plane had been flown 100 miles from Santa Maria to Monterey, and then flown on the day of the crash. Investigators said that activity would have used 12 to 17 gallons of gas, but the last known quantity on board was 15 gallons before the test flight. There was no record of Denver refueling the plane.
Furthermore, it would have been difficult for Denver to tell if he was out of gas because the fuel gauges in the Long E-Z are visible only from the seat behind the pilot's. A mechanic at the Monterey airport did give Denver a mirror so he could try to see the gauges from the pilot's seat. The mirror was recovered in the wreckage.
Flaw in design?
But even if Denver had known that his fuel levels were running low in one tank, it would have been awkward for him to switch to the other tank. Plans for the Long E-Z call for the fuel selector handle to be located between the pilot's legs. But in this case, the plane's builder, Adrian Davis Jr., had installed the tank switch behind the pilot's left shoulder because, he said, he did not want fuel in the cockpit.
As constructed, Denver, an experienced pilot, would have had to remove his safety belts, take his right hand off the control stick and turn in his seat in order to switch from one fuel tank to another. That maneuver, as tested by NTSB officials, takes six to eight seconds.
"Two pilots shared experiences of having inadvertently run a fuel tank dry with near catastrophic consequences because of the selector and (fuel) gauge locations," the report said.
No medical certificate
On the day of the crash, Denver and a maintenance technician talked about the inaccessibility of the handle. They tried to install a pair of vice grips to make the handle longer and easier to reach, but the effort failed.
The report also confirmed that Denver lacked an aviation medical certificate -- a requirement for a valid pilot's license -- at the time of the crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration had disqualified Denver for the certificate in March 1997, after learning that he had violated a previous FAA order to abstain from drinking. An autopsy showed no signs of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
NTSB says low fuel part of accident that killed John Denver
January 26, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Singer John Denver died in an airplane crash because he took off with too little fuel in one tank, had trouble switching to his backup tank and inadvertently put his plane into a roll while his attention was diverted, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Tuesday.
The board, in a 5-0 vote, also blamed a builder's decision to relocate the fuel-tank-selector handle, an absence of markings on the handle and nearby fuel gauges, as well as Denver's lack of training in his new plane. It crashed Oct. 12, 1997, off Pacific Grove, California.
The board urged the Federal Aviation Administration and the Experimental Aircraft Association to develop a program under which new pilots of experimental planes -- like the one Denver was flying _ would receive formalized training before their first flights. Board members noted the planes are sometimes difficult to handle.
"This is not just somebody who flew his (Cessna) 172 around the pattern," said board member Robert T. Francis. "This was an experienced pilot."
The 53-year-old singer-songwriter, famous for such hits as "Rocky Mountain High" and "Sunshine On My Shoulders," was the lone passenger when his plane plunged about 150 feet straight into the waters off California's Monterey Peninsula.
He had bought the aircraft only two weeks earlier and had limited flying time as its pilot.
After hearing from its investigators, the board concluded that Denver's plane had only about three gallons of fuel in its left tank when he took off from the Monterey Peninsula Airport in the late afternoon to practice takeoffs and landings. The right tank had only about six gallons, but Denver declined an offer to refuel.
Witnesses said they heard a sputter, and investigators theorize that he ran out of fuel in the left tank and had trouble switching to his right tank.
The plans for Denver's homemade Long E-Z say the fuel-selector handle -- which switches the fuel flow between the left and right tanks -- should be located between the pilot's legs. But the plane's builder, Texas aircraft maker Adrian Davis Jr., told investigators he put it behind the pilot's left shoulder because he did not want fuel in the cockpit.
On the day of the crash, Denver and a maintenance technician talked about the inaccessibility of the handle. "They tried a pair of Vise Grip pliers on the handle to extend the reach of the handle, but this did not work," said one investigative report.
Under those circumstances, the pilot would have had to remove his shoulder harness, turn around and switch the handle. While doing so, the pilot would press on the plane's right rudder pedal, causing the aircraft to roll.
The investigators told the board that Denver may have been unfamiliar with the plane's fuel gauges and the tank-selector handle because they were not marked.
The fuel gauges -- with vertical windows showing the fuel in each wing tank -- also can be misleading because they do not represent the volume in a linear fashion. When the fuel rises to one-quarter on the window, for example, it does not indicate that the 26-gallon tank is one-quarter full. In reality, it contains less than 5 gallons.
The EAA, a widely praised private group, has developed a program to teach many first-time pilots how to make a safe transition to their new planes. The safety board now wants the FAA and EAA to require more formalized training for pilots of experimental planes.
Also, the board recommended that the FAA require markings on vital aircraft controls such as the fuel gauge and tank-selector handle, and also demand that the markings be inspected annually.
(b. Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., 31 December 1943, Roswell, New Mexico).
One of America's most popular performers during the '70s, Denver's rise to fame began when he was ‘discovered’ in a Los Angeles night club. He initially joined the Back Porch Majority, a nursery group for the renowned New Christy Minstrels but, tiring of his role there, left for the Chad Mitchell Trio where he forged a reputation as a talented songwriter.
With the departure of the last original member, the Mitchell Trio became known as Denver, Boise and Johnson, but their brief life-span ended when John embarked on a solo career in 1969. One of his compositions, Leaving On A Jet Plane, provided an international hit for Peter, Paul And Mary, and this evocative song was the highlight of Denver's debut album, RHYMES AND REASONS. Subsequent releases, TAKE ME TO TOMORROW and WHOSE GARDEN WAS THIS, garnered some attention, but it was not until the release of POEMS, PRAYERS AND PROMISES that the singer enjoyed popular acclaim when one of its tracks, Take Me Home, Country Roads, broached the US Top 3 and became a UK Top 20 hit for Olivia Newton-John in 1973.
The song's undemanding homeliness established a light, almost naive style, consolidated on the albums AERIE and ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH. I'd Rather Be A Cowboy (1973) and Sunshine On My Shoulders (1974) were both gold singles, while a third million-seller, Annie's Song, secured Denver's international status when it topped the UK charts that same year and subsequently became an MOR standard, as well as earning the classical flautist James Galway a UK number 3 hit in 1978. Further US chart success came in 1975 with two number 1 hits, Thank God I'm A Country Boy and I'm Sorry. Denver's status as an all-round entertainer was enhanced by many television spectaculars, including ROCKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS, and further gold-record awards for AN EVENING WITH JOHN DENVER and WINDSONG, ensuring that 1975 was the artist's most successful year to date.
He continued to enjoy a high profile throughout the rest of the decade and forged a concurrent acting career with his role in the film comedy OH, GOD with George Burns. In 1981 his songwriting talent attracted the attention of yet another classically trained artist, when opera singer Placido Domingo duetted with Denver on Perhaps Love. However, although Denver became an unofficial musical ambassador with tours to Russia and China, his recording became less prolific as increasingly he devoted time to charitable work and ecological interests.
Despite the attacks by music critics, who
have deemed his work as bland and saccharine,