Miles Reece, 62, of Bayfield, was flying on his own from the Durango-La Plata County Airport to the Idaho backcountry, where he planned to go camping with a friend who was traveling in a second plane.
According to San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge, Reece’s single-engine 1958 Cessna 175 disappeared from radar at about 9 a.m. on June 18, shortly after it entered the airspace over the La Sals. A search team found the plane early the next afternoon in a steep ravine between Medicine Lake and Beaver Lake.
The accident remains under investigation, and Eldredge said his office won’t know what caused the crash until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completes its report on the incident.
“He was an experienced pilot,” Eldredge said June 24. “He had flown around the La Sal Mountains dozens of times, if not more. We just do not know what happened.”
Reece, who restored antique cars and motorcycles for a living, set off on his trip in tandem with New Mexico resident Douglas Berry. The two men had been communicating via radio during the first leg of their trip, but they lost contact as they flew over the La Sals.
By the time that Berry was on the other side of the range, he still hadn’t heard anything from Reece, so he flew back to the point where they last communicated.
When he couldn’t find him, Berry continued on to their scheduled rendezvous point and refueling stop in Brigham City with the hope that his friend would be there.
“Mr. Berry hoped he had landed with radio problems,” Eldredge said.
He waited there for several hours, and when his friend didn’t show up, Berry called authorities.
“By the time he contacted us, it was late afternoon, and we searched through the night,” Eldredge said.
The multi-agency search slowed down as darkness set in, but it resumed early the next morning.
None of the plane’s four locating devices were on, although Civil Air Patrol searchers spotted the wreckage from above at about 1 p.m. on June 19.
Trees in the ravine are about 100 feet tall, so there was no way for Utah Department of Public Safety personnel to safely land their helicopter nearby, Eldredge said.
However, once they located the plane, San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies on the ground were able to help with recovery efforts, according to Eldredge.
“They had to use a cargo net and hoist him out above those trees,” he said.
At that point, the helicopter flew on to Spanish Valley; from there, Reece’s body was transported by ground to the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office in Salt Lake City.