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By Ed Gordon / Tehachapi News
By THE TEHACHAPI NEWS
He was known as a fixture at the Tehachapi Airport, a top-notch aircraft mechanic and flight instructor. And friends were hoping against hope that there was a chance that Gordon Davis would survive the crash of his Cessna 172 on a rugged Wyoming mountaintop.
But Tuesday afternoon Carbon County Coroner Paul Zamora confirmed that Davis, 63, died in the crash.
According to a report in the Rawlins Times in Rawlins, Wyo., Davis left the Bryce Canyon, Utah, airport Sunday morning, bound for Laramie, Wyo. He never made it.
Instead, at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Carbon County Sheriff Jerry Colson received a call from the U.S. Air Force that an emergency locating transmitter from Davis' plane had been activated, indicating the plane had crashed in the Saratoga area about 45 miles south east of Rawlins in the south central part of Wyoming.
A search ensued with efforts continuing Monday and again Tuesday morning before the plane was found and it was learned that Davis had died.
Search and rescue teams from Hanna, Encampment, Saratoga, Civil Air Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service had scoured the area with hand-held devices for the wreckage, targeting an area about five miles east of Saratoga near Pennock Mountain, Colson said.
Twenty-two search members combed the area using snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles. As of Monday evening, search efforts had slowed due to increasing snow depth, rugged terrain and thickening timber proceeding up the mountain to reach higher ground to pinpoint Davis' signal, Colson said.
A fixed-wing aircraft from Civil Air Patrol and a military helicopter circled the area from above, but severe weather conditions forced the aircraft to turn back.
The Carbon County Sheriff's Office reported the plane was found by a helicopter at 11 a.m. Tuesday in a deep canyon about two-thirds up the southeast side of Pennock Mountain. An autopsy has been scheduled for Thursday.
A friend of the family who answered Davis' home phone Tuesday afternoon said Davis' wife was distraught and unable to speak about what had happened.
Others in the community remembered Davis.
"He was a super nice guy," said local pilot Ken Hetge. "He was always very professional in what he did. He has been around the airport forever. He was a true fixture here. We're going to miss him."
Tim Cahoon agreed.
"Gordon built my plane," he said. "He is one of the best mechanics I've every known."
Davis owned and operated Mountain Hawk Aviation in Tehachapi. His experience as a pilot includes nine years with the USAF and as a crash-recovery and investigation team member with the military. He had more than 35 years in aviation.
Colson said that about 15 years ago, a plane crashed into Elk Mountain in similar weather conditions. Search and rescue teams were able to save a passenger.
"It's a very perilous area," Colson said. "With the high winds we had (Sunday) and (Monday) we had a high-wind warning. It's been a pretty treacherous flightway in the wintertime over the Elk Mountain range."
-- Ed Gordon of the Tehachapi News, Nichole L. Ballard of the Rawlins Daily Times and Jason Kotowski of The Bakersfield Californian contributed to this report.