BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A tragic post-Thanksgiving mystery spanning several states is playing out following the disappearance of a plane that left Shafter Sunday and was last seen in Utah on its way to Wyoming.
The search for the small Piper Archer II plane that departed from Minter Field airport with three people aboard intensified Wednesday, with more aircraft being deployed for the search. The plane went missing after stopping for fuel in Fillmore, Utah, southwest of Provo.
That's where Matthew Ahrens, 37, his girlfriend, Trista Meyer, 34, and her daughter, Shyann Lenz, 9, were last seen Sunday afternoon.
On a Facebook page titled "Prayers for Trista, Shy and Matt," family, friends and others expressed concern about the missing travelers' well-being. The page says the search area has been narrowed to Price/Mt. Pleasant, Utah.
There was a possible sighting of the plane Sunday in Mt. Pleasant shortly after it refueled, said Civil Air Patrol Lt. Stephen Miller. Mt. Pleasant is southeast of Fillmore, and Miller said the entire area is mountainous, making it difficult and dangerous to conduct a search.
Miller said the patrol would begin the search again Thursday morning. He added that weather conditions were fine at the time of the plane's disappearance.
KBAK Channel 29 reported that Ahrens' sister, Donna Moran, was worried about an incoming storm -- expected to hit Bakersfield Friday -- that could bury the wreckage in snow.
KBAK reported Ahrens grew up in Bakersfield and is a graduate of South High. It said the plane also made a stop in Tehachapi to refuel.
Mark Lenz, who identified himself on Facebook as Shyann's father, posted Wednesday, "Keep looking, Shy Daddy is trying (to) stay strong, keep the faith we will find you. I love you sweetpea."
Kristie Teller Mitchell's post was representative of many of the comments, saying she was praying for the safe return of Ahrens, Meyer and Shyann.
"Please Lord bring these wonderful people home safely," she wrote.
On Tuesday evening, Meridith Meyer Johnson posted, "Sitting here looking into the night sky wondering if you guys are doing the same. We are looking so hard to find you...hang on!!! We love you guys!!! Morning is coming soon..."
Meridith Johnson, Meyer's sister, spoke with KSL News in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.
"I got a text message from her at 11:30 in the morning saying they were stopping in Fillmore, Utah, to fuel up," Johnson told KSL News.
Then, "at about 11:58, she sent another text saying they were back in the air and they would be back in three to four hours, and that's the last thing we've heard from them," Johnson told the teleivison station.
Ahrens is described as a veteran pilot; Meyer was learning to fly, and Shyann is a fourth-grader. Ahrens' two dogs were also on the plane, according to KSL's report.
Facebook posts and The Gillette News Record reported a candlelight vigil was planned for Wednesday evening at the Gillette-Campbell County Airport.
Lenz told The Gillette News Record, "There are so many things that I need to say to Shyann that I haven't been able to say yet. We just need them home."
Civil Air Patrol's Utah Wing is working with local law enforcement agencies to find the missing aircraft, according to a Civil Air Patrol news release.
Six planes from Utah, as well as aircraft from Wyoming and Colorado, are searching the area, the news release said. The plane was headed to Gillette, Wyo.
Anyone with information or who has seen the aircraft was asked to call the Civil Air Patrol at 801-533-5456.