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Mon, Jan 29, 2007

Pilot's Body, Plane Remain On Mt. Shasta

Out Of Rescuers' Reach 19 months After Crash

Robert F. Ayers crashed his Piper PA28 Cherokee into Mount Shasta at 11,400 feet on June 18, 2005. Nineteen months later, authorities are still unable to say when, or if, his body and the wreckage can be recovered -- due to the dangerous area in which they lie, out of reach of rescuers.

As Aero-News reported, several attempts have been made -- and then canceled -- by the National Guard because it was too dangerous. Repeated efforts to recover Ayres' body, including an attempt in September, were also were called off due to danger to the rescuers.

The plane wreckage slid about 1,000 feet since the crash, according to the Associated Press, and now lies below the Konwakiton Glacier on the mountain's eastern face.

That is an inaccessible spot, according to Eric White, a climbing ranger and avalanche specialist with the US Forest Service's Mount Shasta Avalanche Center in far Northern California.

Without being able to examine the plane, National Transportation Safety Board officials say they can't determine why the lifelong 69-year old pilot and flight instructor crashed while returning from visiting relatives in Southern California.

"To this day, we don't know what happened," said Ayres' sister, Susan Graves to the Redding Searchlight. Graves said she's frustrated it's taken so long for a recovery, and she wants to know what caused her brother to crash.

White, along with Siskiyou County Sheriff Rick Riggins, say it is possible the plane (shown below) could slide farther down the mountain, to a location where the body could be safely retrieved.

"I sympathize with the family," Riggins said. "But I can't ask my guys to risk their lives for a (body) recovery."

White noted that at least four bodies of climbers who disappeared on the mountain have never been found.

Ayres' daughter, Llana Hinojos, said she is comforted by the fact that her father died doing what he loved.

"Bringing his body down and bringing the plane down is not going to bring him back," she said.

When Ayres crashed, he was flying to his home in Ferndale, WA after visiting family in southern California, Graves said. Ayres made the trip at least two times a year, she said.

After retiring from a career in US Air Force and the US Navy, Ayers became a bush pilot in Alaska, dropping food and supplies to inaccessible areas.

FMI: www.shastaavalanche.org, www.ntsb.gov

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