Posted by: harrisonjones | October 6, 2017

Real Life, Real People, Real Courage

As you may know, the book release of Miracle on Buffalo Pass was held at The Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver on Saturday September 23rd. Today I will begin a blog series to introduce you to the incredible people that experienced the miracle and were willing to tell their story in the book. If you have read the story, you will enjoy meeting the passengers, the crew, and the rescue personnel who attended the book release event almost thirty-nine years after the crash. After writing about these courageous people for more than a year, I have never felt more privileged than when I met them in person. I am so humbled that they allowed me to tell their story and I know it will benefit all who read it.


Luann and Jeff Mercer


Jeff and Luann Mercer sign copies of Miracle on Buffalo Pass for those who attended the book release event. When Jeff and Luann boarded Flight 217 in 1978, they were bound for Florida where they were to be married. The wedding was delayed by the injuries they suffered in the accident, but their lives have since flourished together and it was a pleasure to be with them in Denver. Their story is inspiring and encouraging.

Dinner 18 (2)

Margie Kotts Roosli and Matt Kotts


In 1978, Margie Kotts left Steamboat Springs aboard Flight 217 with her eight-month old son to visit her sister in Denver. Margie suffered a concussion in the accident, but Matt was uninjured. I was so happy to meet them in Denver. Matt is now Captain Matt Kotts and a commercial airline pilot. Wonderful people with a compelling story.

WOTR 62 (2)

Maureen Redmond Smith


Maureen Redmond Smith is pictured signing books alongside Matt Kotts. Maureen selected a seat next to Margie Kotts and her infant son on Flight 217. Maureen was traveling to Denver to attend a training session for her employer. After the crash occurred, Maureen realized Margie was incapacitated and took responsibility for eight-month old Matt. She protected Margie and Matt from the frigid snow and wind on Buffalo Pass by stuffing Luann Mercer’s wedding dress in an opening in the airplane’s fuselage. It was a pleasure to meet a brave and courageous lady with concern for all around her.

Dinner 19 (2)

Jon Pratt


Jon Pratt played a huge role in The Miracle on Buffalo Pass. Jon was only twenty-years old in 1978; however, he was an Eagle Scout and was experienced with survival skills. Jon sustained injuries in the crash but far less than most of his fellow passengers. He was able to render aid to others throughout the frigid night and is credited with saving many lives. Jon addresses his fellow survivors and rescuers at the reunion dinner and was applauded for his heroic efforts on Buffalo Pass. I was more than privileged to meet Jon and it was gratifying to see the appreciation shown by the passengers he cared for on that tragic night in 1978.

Dinner 26 (3)

Jon receives a thank you from Margie Kotts Roosli


Dinner 27 (3)

Vern Bell

Vern Bell was only nineteen-years-old in 1978 and returning to his home near Denver on Flight 217. Like Jon Pratt, his injuries were not severe and he was willing and able to help the other survivors. Vern was on a simple day trip and not expecting to be subjected to a blizzard and he was dressed in tennis shoes and a jacket rather than boots and a parker. Nonetheless he trudged through the snow along with Jon Pratt to empty the baggage compartment and provide all clothing available to the passengers in the cabin. The two young men moved the most severely injured into the baggage compartment and made them as comfortable as possible and then worked to dig the copilot out of the cockpit. At the dinner, Vern received great appreciation for his heroic efforts also.

Dinner 15 (2)

Jane Klopfenstein Oates and First Officer Gary Coleman


First Officer Gary Coleman was critically injured in the crash and trapped in the wreckage of the cockpit. Here, he is pictured as he memorializes Captain Scott Klopfenstein who tragically lost his life in the accident. Jane Klopfenstein Oates, Scott’s sister, looks on as Gary honors the memory of her brother. Gary was not only trapped in the cockpit, he was buried in snow and ice. Despite the heroic efforts of Jon Pratt and Vern Bell, he could not be removed until rescue teams arrived. Gary was pronounced dead at the hospital in Kremmling, but his demise was prematurely announced, and he eventually recovered and returned to flying.

Dinner 16 (2)

Here, Jane reads a letter from Virginia Klopfenstein, she and Scott’s mother. At age ninety-one, Virginia was unable to travel to attend the events in Denver. Her letter of appreciation for those who gave their best effort to aid her son was poignant and heartfelt and touched everyone in attendance. A sober reminder that The Miracle did not exclude the tragic loss of life.

In the next blog I will introduce you to the rescue teams who risked their own safety to find the crash site and then rescue the survivors.



  1. Harrison: I received the box of books this after noon. Thanks. Jim

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Great news, Jim. Thank you for all you’ve done for our project and for all your service in Search and Rescue.

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