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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Denver Crashed Trying Out New Airplane

PEBBLE BEACH, California -- His buddies tried to coax him into another round of golf. But after five hours and 18 holes, John Denver couldn't be persuaded. He was anxious to try out his new plane.

"They finished and were at the clubhouse debating it," said Dale Taylor, assistant pro at the Spyglass Hill Golf Course. "John said, 'I'd love to play but I got a new plane. I'm going to practice my landings and takeoffs.'"

Three hours later Sunday afternoon, after three touch-and-go landings on the Monterey Peninsula Airport runway, Denver's single-engine, red-white-and-blue experimental craft plunged into the Pacific Ocean, killing the 53-year-old singer instantly.

Radio and television stations nationwide played Monday snippets of his sunny songs from the '70s such as "Rocky Mountain High," and "Sunshine on My Shoulders."

Records show Denver bought the 10-year-old, Y-shaped Long EZ plane a day earlier from a man in Santa Maria, California, whose identity was not known, then flew to Monterey, George Petterson of the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, said Monday.

On Sunday, he practiced landings, then told the air traffic tower he intended to fly for another hour.

Denver apparently was distracted by his plane's transponder, which lets a pilot key in a signal to the tower for radio identification. His first signal wasn't picked up, Petterson said, so Denver tried again.

"His last words were, 'Do you have it now?'" he said.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m., the plane plummeted about 150 meters into Monterey Bay. Several witnesses reported hearing a "popping" sound before the crash.

Petterson said finding the crash's exact cause will take at least six months. Much of the destroyed craft has been recovered, and divers hoped to raise the engine Tuesday from 15 meters of water.

The Long EZ, designed by Burt Rutan in the late 1970s, is built from a set of plans that can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Denver's aircraft was built by Rutan Aircraft in Mojave, California, according to a woman who answered the telephone at the desert facility. She wouldn't give her name.

NTSB records show 61 accidents involving the Long EZ since 1983, 17 of which killed a total of 21 people. Most were blamed on pilot error.

Denver had two drunken-driving arrests in Colorado and was to be tried on one of those charges in January.

Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, New Mexico, where his father, an Air Force test pilot, was stationed. He took his stage name from the Colorado capital, where he eventually made his home.

In the mid-1960s, he was chosen from among 250 hopefuls as new lead singer for the Chad Mitchell Trio. He left in 1969 for a solo career.

"Take Me Home, Country Roads," released in 1971, has become West Virginia's unofficial state anthem, while 1974's "Annie's Song," written for his first wife, is a wedding standard.

Friends said the late singer was a passionate man who expressed himself best through the soothing music that made him a star in the 1970s.

Fourteen of his albums went gold and eight platinum, with more than a million copies sold. "John Denver's Greatest Hits" from 1973 is still one of the biggest-selling albums in the history of RCA Records, with worldwide sales of more than 10 million copies.

"Music does bring people together," Denver said. "People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same.