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The Makepeace family, who died in a September 2017 plane crash. (Handout)
The Makepeace family of Fort Collins, who died in a September 2017 plane crash. (Handout)

The 2017 crash of a single-engine airplane near Glenwood Springs, killing a Fort Collins family of four, was caused by the pilot’s decision to fly into weather conditions he was not rated to handle and his lack of pre-takeoff planning, federal investigators said this week. 

Those are the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the Sept. 15, 2017, wreck that killed 47-year-old Jeff Makepeace, his wife, 45-year-old Jennifer, and their 10-year-old twins, Addison and Benjamin. The family’s dog was also killed.

The family was heading from Fort Collins to Moab on a night flight when the Cirrus SR22 they were riding in went down in the mountains amid bad weather.

“Nothing in the report changes the fact that we lost the four of them and they are not coming back,” Makepeace relatives said in a statement Wednesday morning to The Colorado Sun. “While the report cites pilot error, everyone in the (family) has the firm belief that Jeff did not intentionally put himself, Jennifer, Addison and Benjamin in harm’s way. This is not the Jeff we know or how we will remember him. Quite the contrary. He was a conscientious, detail-oriented pilot who was a stickler for safety.”

The family thanked the NTSB for its work on the investigation and for answering their questions throughout the process.

“(Jeff) was a loving husband and father who would do anything for his family,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, a series of events led to this tragic loss of lives.”

The NTSB said Jeff Makepeace, the pilot, likely entered weather conditions requiring the use of his airplane’s instruments — which reveal heading, pitch and speed — and became disoriented, leading him to lose control. He was not rated to fly in instrument conditions. 

A photo from the scene of the September 2017 plane crash. (Provided by the NTSB)

Investigators say their examination of the airplane showed no anomalies that would have otherwise caused the crash. 

“It is likely that, while maneuvering, the pilot experienced spatial disorientation, which resulted in a loss of control and subsequent descent into terrain,” the report said.

During the flight, according to the report, one of the people on the plane texted a family member: “Taking the long way around, lots of weather, keep you posted.”

Family members told investigators that the family had planned on departing earlier in the day but that they were delayed because of a business issue. 

MORE: More than 70 people have died in Colorado aircraft crashes since 2014. Here’s what the data tells us.

“There was no record of the pilot retrieving preflight weather information from an official, access-controlled source, and what weather information, if any, he obtained before or during the flight could not be determined,” the report said. “Based on the weather forecasts and information valid before the airplane departed and while en route, and the equipment available onboard the airplane, there was sufficient weather information available to the pilot before and during the flight to make informed decisions regarding the weather he would likely encounter.”

An obituary for the family said the Makepeace family was known for their “adventurous spirits and their love for all things outdoors.” 

“They were always on the go, whether it be hiking up Horsetooth Mountain, skiing in Steamboat or flying to be with family for a weekend adventure,” it read.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....