Two New York Pilots Killed In Aspen-Area Bonanza Crash


An aviation entrepreneur and an oral surgeon (also a pilot), both from New York City, were killed in the crash of a Beechcraft G36 Bonanza on Saturday evening, July 3, in Colorado. David Zara, one of the founders of charter providers Zen Air and Tradewind Aviation, and Dr. Ruben Cohen took off from Aspen-Pitkin County Airport early Saturday evening. But when a friend reported them overdue at their destination airport in Des Moines, Iowa, mid-morning on Sunday, local Colorado authorities launched a search for the Bonanza. It isn’t clear which of the two pilots was flying.

The wreckage and the two men’s bodies were found near a mountain pass near the Continental Divide about nine to 12 miles from the departure airport. The pass tops out at just over 12,000 feet in elevation.

According to FlightAware data, an IFR flight plan route on file called for a northwesterly departure over lower terrain (see dotted line in image) followed by an easterly turn to the on-course heading for Des Moines, but the pilots reportedly canceled the IFR clearance before takeoff. FlightAware data shows the Bonanza circling over the city of Aspen while gaining altitude and then turning east toward the rising terrain.

In a statement, Connecticut-based Tradewind Aviation wrote: “Tradewind Aviation is devastated to hear of the loss of our friend and colleague David Zara this past Saturday. David was incredibly charismatic, thoughtful, and had a passion for flying. He will be deeply missed.” Zara had not been associated with Tradewind for several years, according to the company.

Cohen, who practiced in Manhattan, also owned Long Island-based LEC Aviation, according to The Aspen Times. The Bonanza’s registration was recently transferred to the company. Born in France, Cohen was known for his volunteer work in “towns and villages in Asia, Africa and Central America,” according to his online profile, which also noted he did pro bono rescue work at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. CFIT is really dumb in the 21st century. I’m sorry, but not hitting the planet is job #1 in aviation.

    • Yes Arthur, you certainly should be sorry for spouting off about a tragic accident which took the lives of two human beings and knowing practically nothing about what may have caused it. Shameful.

      • It was not an “accident” to fail both flight planning and also ignore modern moving map terrain aware instruments. What is shameful is putting a perfectly good airplane into the dirt and killing yourself and a trusting passenger.

        There is no shame nor apology needed on my part; I use such egregious examples of intentionally bad airmanship to stay safe! Don’t be yet another headstone that testifies that you need to take aviation seriously.

        • “Intentionally bad airmanship?” Really?? And how is it that you know that this pilot’s abilities were so substandard? How is it you are so sure that he didn’t take aviation seriously?

          There may have been engine trouble or control issues. The pilot may have experienced a medical emergency or was otherwise incapacitated. Fuel contamination, or some other problem. The truth is, we don’t know what the underlying cause(s) of the accident may have been and we possibly never will.

          Your points about the importance of thorough flight planning and the usefulness of modern avionics for navigation and situational awareness are good as far they go — but to label a dead pilot “dumb” and when you know very little about what could have caused the crash does nothing to promote safety. It’s callous, mean-spirited — and, yes, shameful.

  2. I think there is some indication of what caused it.
    They had a safe plan. An IFR departure route over lower terrain. They abandoned that plan. It appears (from the track) that they instead elected to circle over/near the airport until above the terrain and then proceed on course, but never achieved a safe altitude before flying towards the obstructions. Assuming this was at night, the mountains would not have been visible out the window, which means this flight was executed in instrument conditions (IMC) even if it wasn’t in the clouds.
    I recognize the tragedy in a loss of life, and especially these two guys who seemed like good men, but at the same time I am able to contemplate the accident itself.
    We’re these experienced pilots? It seems so. Was this a capable aircraft? It seems so.
    We don’t know specifically if they had any sort of terrain awareness or terrain warning device available, but certainly such things are within reach of nearly every pilot. So how did the links for a chain here? Is it disrespectful to ask the question?

    • Several good points, except the accident did occur about two hours before sunset (which was at 8:37 pm on Saturday), so darkness was not a factor.

    • David, it is certainly not disrespectful to ask the question — in fact, it is completely appropriate to ask many questions and seek all information that might provide an answer to what caused this crash. That is the job the NTSB is tasked with. Hopefully their investigation will reveal the cause or causes.

      What’s disrespectful is to imply that the accident pilot was dumb while having little knowledge about the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident.

  3. Experience in the flat lands versus being experienced in the Rocky Mountains are not the same thing. Terrible loss.

  4. Definitely a sad thing and my condolences go out to their families. There is a lot we don’t know about the accident, but mountain flying can be a unforgiving animal, expecially in the summer. Density altitude at Aspen can easily be in the low teens on a warm summer day. I don’t know if a G36 is turbocharged, but even if it is, down drafts around the clouds can make climbing nearly impossible. The IFR departure toward lower terrain is done for a reason. It automatically gives a safer and more stable environment to gain the altitude needed to clear the peaks. You get a better rate of climb flying straight than in a circle, and it provides a better approach to the mountains. Even if you have taken a mountain flying course, you don’t really experience the real thing until you have flown through it.

    • One thing I did find interesting is that it appears the Colorado authorities got no indication of an accident, either from the on-board ELT or from any ADS-B data being received before impact. Aspen is a pretty popular destination for the rich and famous who fly in jets, so I would assume they have good ATC coverage that should include ADS-B position and altitude data.

      • This may kill any thought of using ADS-B install as a substitute for an ELT. If this plane had an older 121.5mhz ELT, this might get some nosey congressperson to push for a mandate requiring the newer ELT install.

  5. The available data could lead to a preliminary report, but a declaration at his time is “jumping the gun” and should be avoided. They both seem experienced and familiar, so I would definitely take pause here..

    • This is a news website allowing readers to comment on all articles. As a low time pilot I appreciate insight and opinions from other pilots, which will necessarily include speculation due to the recentness of the events. Saying “wait for the NTSB” is basically calling for comments to be disabled or limited to uninteresting condolence notes, leaving the reader without the ability to process the information with fellow pilots.

      • Nobody learns anything from speculation and a fabricated story line.. Because it’s not real..!! Practicing patients and the thorough analysis of the
        “Probable Cause” has validity for any quality Pilot..