Pilot Gordon Davis explains the instrumentation of a plane during the “Celebration of Flight” hosted by Tehachapi, Calif., Association of Pilots at Tehachapi Airport in Sept. 2012. Davis and his plane went down Sunday near Saratoga. Search-and-rescue teams found the plane and Davis’ body Tuesday morning.
Southeastern Wyoming winds.
Whatever sent 63-year-old Gordon Davis’ Cessna 172 into the southeast side of Pennock Mountain and a deep canyon about two-thirds of the way up its side sometime Sunday is a determination that remains the province of a pending National Transportation Safety Board investigation.
And whether the injuries he sustained in the crash caused Davis’ death, or subzero temperatures, or a combination of both, remains the province of an autopsy scheduled for Thursday in Loveland, Colo.
What can be determined is that the former U.S. Air Force pilot didn’t give up without a fight.
The Cessna’s wreckage was located Tuesday at approximately 11 a.m. by a helicopter flying out of Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. Rappelling down to the accident site from the chopper, the military medic aboard determined Davis was dead … but his body was not in the airplane.
Davis had survived the crash, according to both the helicopter crew and the search team that recovered his remains.
The pilot with 35 years in the air had made it out of his wrecked airplane. He died under his own wing, where he had sought shelter.
Kenneth Hetge, a fellow businessman at the Tehachapi, Calif., airport where Davis’ Mountain Hawk Aviation was based, told the Rawlins Daily Times his friend was a “professional” who “worked to make his business and our airport a friendly place for everyone who stopped by.”
“Every day was spent working on airplanes or giving flight instruction to someone wishing to learn the trade. Gordon was very thorough with everything he did and will truly be missed,” Hetge said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Gordon’s family, both in Tehachapi and in Wyoming.”
Davis began the fateful last leg of his last flight Sunday morning at the Bryce Canyon, Utah, airport, headed to Laramie for a visit with his father – a route he had navigated many times.
Carbon County Sheriff Jerry Colson first learned of the downed plane after the military notified him Sunday at 5 p.m. that an emergency locating transmitter had been activated, indicating it had crashed.
That evening, search-and-rescue teams from Hanna, Encampment, Saratoga, Civil Air Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service targeted the area about five miles east of Saratoga near Pennock Mountain, Colson said. The teams worked into the early Monday morning hours and resumed their efforts at 7 a.m.
Searchers used snowmobiles, four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicles and hand-held radio receivers, hoping to track the signal.
A fixed-wing plane and a helicopter were initially deployed, but had to turn back due to high winds. The eyes in the sky returned Tuesday, eventually locating Davis and the wreckage of his aircraft.
“It’s a very perilous area,” Sheriff Colson said Monday. He called the flight path over the Elk Mountain range “treacherous” in the winter.
*In October 2012, searchers found a Piper Turbo in pieces on the south face of Laramie Peak in Albany County. None of its four passengers, all from Texas, survived.
*In February 2004, a plane crashed near the summit of Elk Mountain, killing the pilot and injuring the two passengers. Rescuers mounted out a daylong effort in bitter weather that got the survivors off the mountain.
*In January 1946, a United Airlines transport en route from Boise, Idaho, to Denver, Colo. crashed near the top of Elk Mountain. All 21 occupants of the aircraft were fatally injured – including 12 redeploying soldiers, six civilians and three crew – and the Douglas DC-3 was demolished by impact and fire. Search parties had originally turned back from the 11,125-foot peak, reporting their faces were freezing.
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