Pilot accused of buzzing Horsetooth Reservoir boaters faces charges, may have left country


This photo of a Cessna plane flying dangerously close to a boat on Horsetooth Reservoir on Sept. 11, 2022, was used as evidence to charge the pilot with menacing and reckless endangerment.

The pilot accused of buzzing boaters on Horsetooth Reservoir before crashing in September is facing multiple charges, but Larimer County Sheriff’s Office says he left the country.

A Cessna 172M airplane flew recklessly close to boaters on Horsetooth Reservoir on Sept. 11, 2022.

Shortly after witnesses described the plane buzzing boaters, the plane crashed just west of the reservoir in Larimer County-managed Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and Larimer County park rangers located the damaged plane.

Investigators learned Ahmed El-Kaddah was piloting the plane at the time, according to a Monday afternoon news release from the sheriff’s office.

El-Kaddah and his brother sustained minor injuries in the crash that left the plane severely damaged. It took crews 10 hours to disassemble the plane and remove it from the public recreation area.

A LinkedIn account appearing to belong to El-Kaddah said he was an airline pilot with Journeys Aviation Inc. of Boulder.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board report, El-Kaddah’s brother, who was the flight instructor onboard, “made differing and conflicting statements.” The first statement was that “there was an engine malfunction and to avoid landing on the water or impacting boats on the surface, he elected to make a climbing right turn to the west, away from the lake, and the airplane subsequently impacted rising terrain.”

In a written statement provided by the flight instructor, he stated the power had been reduced to “see more of the scenery.” Shortly thereafter, the pilot flying — later identified as El-Kaddah, who the report states was also a certificated pilot — told him he could not climb due to a jammed elevator. The flight instructor stated that he could only control the airplane through the use of trim and power manipulation. To avoid congested areas, he said, they maneuvered to the reservoir and attempted to free the jammed elevator by “wiggling the flight control in and out,” which resulted in the airplane pitching down. He stated that after adding power and retrimming the airplane, he elected to fly west into the valley to look for a landing area.

A review of flight track data revealed the airplane did not descend as described in the written statement. Witness statements, photos and video footage also showed the plane flying recklessly toward several of the boats, according to the sheriff’s office release.

Sheriff’s office investigators contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine if the pilot’s actions met the criteria for federal charges — the agency said it did not — before presenting the case to the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office, which filed five misdemeanor charges of menacing and six misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment against El-Kaddah.

A warrant was issued for El-Kaddah’s arrest, but investigators received information that he left the country shortly after the incident and has not returned.

“The fact that someone would show such reckless disregard for the lives of others is concerning, but it’s even more disturbing on a date that holds so much pain and significance for our country,” Larimer County Sheriff John Feyen said in the release, referring to 9/11. “The lack of legal accountability is frustrating to say the least, but in this and every case, we’ll continue to support victims and hold suspects accountable within the confines of the law.”

Anyone with information about El-Kaddah’s location is asked to contact investigator Tyler Thomas at 970-498-5167. Those wishing to remain anonymous can contact Crime Stoppers of Larimer County at 970-221-6868 or www.stopcriminals.org.

All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime.

This photo of a Cessna plane flying dangerously close to a boat on Horsetooth Reservoir on Sept. 11, 2022, was used as evidence to charge the pilot with menacing and reckless endangerment.