The man who died in a fiery plane crash near Santa Fe Regional Airport on Monday night was an experienced pilot, an accountant and a grandfather, his daughter said Tuesday.

Larry Nelson, 73, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., had been flying recreationally for around 40 years, his daughter, KC Nelson, said.

“He loved it; he did. He seemed to feel free in the air,” she said. “He would talk about being sick of being on the ground.”

On Monday, Nelson was making a trip from Arizona to Akron, Colo., his daughter said, when she thinks he made an emergency diversion to the Santa Fe airport.

The National Transportation Safety Bureau is investigating the crash. Santa Fe police Lt. Matthew Champlin told The New Mexican on Monday that it appeared Nelson crashed just short of the runway. Area residents reported seeing flames, and a fire crew learned of the crash around 7:50 p.m.

Nelson’s plane, a single-engine Mooney M20, was destroyed, according to a Federal Aviation Administration preliminary report. Nelson was the only person on board.

The pilot’s family suspects there might have been an issue with the plane, which Nelson had just recently purchased, or perhaps Nelson had a health issue. KC Nelson said her father recently had been having issues with his kidneys and had undergone dialysis.

Still, KC Nelson said, her father had made countless interstate flights and made his fair share of emergency landings.

“He would always say that a good pilot can get an airplane on the ground no matter what, as long as they kept themselves together and followed their checklist,” she said. “So we really think something bad might have happened with the airplane or with him.”

KC Nelson described her father as a jack-of-all-trades of sorts, who worked as an accountant, computer programmer and contractor, and was a certified flight instructor.

He was the kind of father who took his daughters up in his airplane on the Fourth of July so they could see the fireworks from the sky, KC Nelson said — the kind of man who wanted to fly behind KC as she made her own cross-country flight to make sure she got where she was going safely.

“He was a very safe pilot. Unless something was very wrong, he never would have crashed an airplane,” his daughter said. “He was extremely smart and funny, and a capable pilot. … We all miss him.”

Nelson leaves behind two daughters and a 23-month-old grandson.


Sami Edge covers public-safety issues for Santa Fe New Mexican and follows developments in this year's fire season.