San Juan County Sheriff’s search teams found a missing airplane on Thursday, June 19 that had crashed into the mountainside in the La Sal Mountains, killing the pilot, 62-year-old Miles Reece, of Bayfield, Colo., on impact.
The plane was located at about 1 p.m. in a steep ravine directly between Medicine Lake and Beaver Lake south of the La Sal Mountain Pass road, according to a San Juan County Sheriff’s Office press release. There were no other passengers.
Reece was on his way to the Idaho backcountry to camp with his friend, Douglas Berry, of New Mexico. The plane was a 1958 fixed-wing, single-engine 175 Cessna, according to the release, and other than the pilot, it only contained camping equipment.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash. The plane was equipped with four tracking devices, including a “Find Me Spot” locator and an “Orange Box Emergency Locator,” but none of them were turned on, according to the report.
The body of Miles Reece was scheduled to be flown to the Spanish Valley area by DPS helicopter, then transported by ground to the medical examiner’s office in Salt Lake City.
According to the report, Reece flew out of the airport in Durango, Colo., and was planning to stop in Brigham City to refuel. Berry accompanied Reece, flying ahead. The two were in radio contact, but not visual contact. As they entered the Lasal Mountain Range, the planes disappeared from Grand Junction, Colo. radar. After passing the mountain range, only Berry’s plane appeared back on radar.
According to the release, Berry turned around and flew back to where he last had talked to Reece, but couldn’t find him. Berry then continued to Brigham City in hopes that Reece was only having radio problems and would meet up with him.
After several hours of waiting with no contact from Reece, Berry contacted authorities to report the missing plane.
Aviation experts say that it is unusual that none of the on-board tracking equipment was activated.
“Normally an Emergency Locator is in an ‘armed’ setting, similar to a house alarm, and would be triggered in the event of a crash,” said Larry Van Slyke, a pilot with Moab-based Redtail Aviation.
Van Slyke said that, on the other hand, the Spot Locator, needs to be turned on by the pilot.
Regarding the apparent lack of radio contact between the two pilots, Van Slyke said that could possibly be explained by the topography of the La Sal Mountains. “The radios they are using in those planes are ‘line-of-sight,’” he said, “meaning, if there are mountains in between the two pilots, that could easily prevent communication.”
Van Slyke said that windy conditions in the area can pose challenges for pilots, particularly in the mountains when a pilot is trying to climb over the mountains from the east against the prevailing westerly winds.
Reece’s next of kin was notified and his body was scheduled to be taken to the Utah Medical Examiner’s office in Salt Lake City.
Miles Reece, 62, of Bayfield, Colo., died on impact