Figure skating friend describes woman killed in Steamboat Springs plane crash as a 'bright star'

The Routt County Coroner on Tuesday identified the two people in the crash as Dan Dunn, 67, and Jessica Pauline Melton, 42.
Steamboat Springs plane crash
Posted at 11:03 PM, Jun 18, 2024

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — The Routt County coroner on Tuesday identified the two people aboard a small plane who died when the aircraft crashed into a mobile home park near the Steamboat Springs Airport/Bob Adams Field (SBS).

According to the City of Steamboat Springs, the twin-engine Cessna 421 airplane was believed to be en route from Longmont to Ogden, Utah, when it crashed into the West Acres Mobile Park, killing Dan Dunn, 67, and Jessica Pauline Melton, 42.



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Once Melton was identified, friends and colleagues began sharing their memories of her on social media.

“I screamed and dropped my phone. And my two little kids are there, and they're like, 'Mommy, mommy, what's going on?'” Caitlin Brozna-Smith said about seeing the posts on Facebook. “It was a total disconnect from reality because, you know, we were born in the same year. She's 42, and we were just very much compatriots in arms.”

Brozna-Smith said she knew Melton for around 10 years while working at an ice skating rink in Denver.

“We would coach together on the ice and do ice shows together, and I would share some of my students with her and I would teach some of hers," Brozna-Smith recalled. “Jess never lost sight of the bigger picture. She never lost sight of life outside skating. That helped also shape my ideals when I coached, trying to give these kids who probably weren't going to go to the Olympics one-day life skills, confidence, being able to have work ethic and dedication, being able to be a good team member, skills that were going to serve you once you were done with your skating career. And that is what Jess did very, very well.”

Brozna-Smith said she had two children and stopped figure skating, focusing her attention on creating a dance studio, Bella Diva World Dance. She lost touch with Melton around 2020.

Brozna-Smith said Melton must have seen on Facebook a fundraiser for expanding the dance studio.

"I got this email from her. I didn't recognize it, or her, at first because it came through her construction company, which I didn't even know she had. And she made a very, very generous donation," Brozna-Smith said. “She knew how expensive materials were and how expensive labor was. And she said, 'Hey, here's this check. This is going to get you where you need to be.' I was just so floored that someone would do that for someone. We weren't family, you know, we were colleagues and friends for many years, but for her to have that kind of compassion and empathy and generosity, you know, like, what must she have done for her actual family and best friends? I think that she's going to leave that legacy of having other people want to pay it forward in her name.”

Brozna-Smith described Melton as a bright star and said there is a huge community of people who will miss her dearly.

“She was at her peak, doing such amazing things in her figure skating life and her construction firm. And she traveled a lot, and it was just like this bright fire that just got extinguished," said Brozna-Smith. “She will never know the impact that she had [at the dance studio] because we predominantly serve international students, multicultural students, that we try to keep our prices low so they can afford dance classes.”

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Michele Kuehl with JL Melton Construction, Inc. said she worked with Melton for more than a decade. They were friends for at least 20 years.

Melton was the vice preseident of the company, Kuehl said.

"Since her father’s retirement in 2022 she has successfully assumed management of all aspects of the business and was continually working to grow the business. I was honored to be her friend and colleague," Kuehl said. "On Monday June 17th, Jessica was on her way to a professional development seminar in Utah. She was invited to travel via private plane with another attendee. Unfortunately, they never made it. We are devastated by her sudden and tragic loss."

According to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), between 2012 and 2021, there were 381 small plane crashes. Seventy of those were fatal, killing 117 people.

The Steamboat Springs incident marked the third small plane crash in Colorado in 10 days. On June 7, a small plane crashed in an Arvada neighborhood, killing a woman and injuring three other people. On Sunday, crews rescued two people from a small plane crash after troopers said the pilot attempted to land on Interstate 25 near Spruce Mountain Road near Larkspur.

“There isn't an accident trend. It's just that more people are flying this time of year," Steve Cowell, an aviation safety expert, said of the three crashes. “It just was pure coincidence that three happened to go down, three accidents happened within a two-week period.”

Cowell said heat can impact planes in terms of performance but said all of the models of planes in each of the crashes are considered reliable.

“As far as the Steamboat crash is concerned, this is a beautiful twin-engine airplane made by Cessna years ago. It's called a Golden Eagle. A 421 holds about six people. Engines are very powerful... it easily can go over the mountains," Cowell explained.

The official cause of the crash is under investigation. However, according to Routt County Emergency Communications, the plane was experiencing an engine problem.

“If they determined there was an engine problem, okay, a lot of things would had to have gone right for that airplane to even maintain 10,000 feet," Cowell said. “In the case of the two crashes, Arvada and Larkspur, there's a new fuel that's being promoted at Centennial airport that's a non-leaded fuel, as opposed to the standard 100 low lead fuel that most general aviation aircraft use. Okay, so that would be the possibility, the commonality if there is anything. But the NTSB will be able to figure that out fairly quickly."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash.

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