Local News

Thursday, Nov 29 2012 10:59 AM

Family holds out hope for occupants of missing plane

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Family of Matthew Ahrens are holding out hope that the experienced pilot and outdoorsman managed to land safely and is holed up with his girlfriend and her daughter awaiting rescue.

But that hope is running thin as each day goes by with no sign of where Ahrens' plane went down.

"I kind of feel like we lost him," Dianne Bryant, one of Ahrens' sisters, said Thursday.

The last anyone saw Ahrens' plane was when he stopped to refuel just before noon Sunday in Fillmore, Utah. He was on his way back to Gillette, Wyo., with his girlfriend and her daughter after spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family in Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

Bryant said not knowing what happened has been difficult, but she's trying to live her life and take care of her family as the search continues. She's glad she was with Ahrens on Saturday, the day before he left Shafter's Minter Field on his return flight.

"I'm thankful for that, that we did get to see him that night," she said.

Donna Moran, another of Ahrens' sisters and one of his four siblings, said the family has gathered at her home in Tehachapi over the past few years to celebrate Thanksgiving. Ahrens grew up in Bakersfield and graduated from South High, spent a few years at UCLA, and then worked as an auto mechanic in Oregon and Bakersfield before moving to Gillette.

Moran said Ahrens has lived in Gillette for at least four years, but they're a close-knit family and have done a good job of staying in touch with each other.

"He's the baby brother of the family," Moran said, adding with a laugh that his being 37 years old doesn't change that status.

She described Ahrens as an experienced pilot who owns his own plane and is a mechanic by trade. She said he would have been aware if anything had been wrong with the aircraft.

Moran said her brother is very self-reliant, as is Trista Meyer, his girlfriend. Moran has no doubt they could survive for a few days in the wild if he landed safely.

With them on the plane was Meyer's 9-year-old daughter, Shyann Lenz.

Moran said Meyer texted a relative after they refueled in Fillmore saying they would be back in Gillette in three hours. No one has heard from them since, and there's been no signal from their cell phones or the locator on the plane.

Fillmore is about 147 miles south of Salt Lake City, and 446 miles southeast of Gillette. Searchers have said no matter what route Ahrens chose he would have had to cross over mountainous terrain.

The search area encompasses 2,400 square miles.

Civil Air Patrol Lt. Col. Stuart Boyd said late Thursday afternoon that searchers -- including nine planes and two ground crews -- were unable to find any sign of Ahrens' plane and they were making plans to begin again Friday morning. A stormfront that was expected to hit Utah Friday instead won't arrive until Saturday, giving them another day of good weather in which to search.

Boyd said he wished he had something better to report.

"There's lots of us down here praying for good news," he said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Civil Air Patrol at 801-533-5456.

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