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Denver Flew With Invalid License, Investigator Says

California and the West

October 15, 1997| From Associated Press

PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. — John Denver flew to his death with an invalid license because he had twice been arrested on drunk driving charges, a federal aviation official told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration pulled Denver's medical certificate--which is required to fly with a pilot's license--on June 13, 1996, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman George Petterson.

But Monterey County Sheriff Norman Hicks emphasized that the evidence indicates that the 53-year-old Denver was sober when he took off in his privately built Long-EZ aircraft Sunday and crashed into Monterey Bay.

"From all indications that we've been able to find--from talking to people who played golf with him, who saw him at the airport, to the person who dealt with him taking the plane out to get ready to fly--he was not drinking," Hicks said.

Denver, who achieved fame in the 1970s with songs including "Rocky Mountain High" and "Sunshine on My Shoulders," died instantly of blunt trauma in the crash, according to the coroner.

Toxicology reports that would show any evidence of drug or alcohol use are expected in 10 to 12 days.

In Washington, FAA officials refused to say why Denver's medical certificate was revoked, citing privacy concerns. However, another federal regulator, speaking on condition of anonymity, cited Denver's driving record.

The singer had two drunk driving arrests in 1993 and 1994 in Colorado. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of driving while impaired in the 1993 case and was scheduled to be tried in January for the 1994 accident, in which he smashed his Porsche into a cluster of trees.

Denver's attorney, Walter Gerash, said the singer may have lost his pilot's license briefly in 1993 or 1994 when he was charged with drunk driving. But Gerash added that as far as he knows Denver had a valid pilot's license at the time of the crash.

On the day of his death, Denver parked his Porsche at the Monterey Peninsula Airport. Hicks said authorities found a handgun in the car, but did not yet know if he had a permit to carry the weapon.

Meanwhile, divers Tuesday recovered the engine of Denver's plane in 40 feet of water and turned it over to NTSB investigators.

"Piece by piece, we'll put the airplane back together. We're very happy with the condition of the engine," Petterson said. "The saltwater has not taken its toll on the engine as much as we had feared."

The 150-horsepower, 200-pound engine is a key piece of evidence as to why Denver's plane apparently nose-dived Sunday into the waters 100 yards off Lovers Point on Monterey Bay. Witnesses reported a popping sound before the crash.

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