Relaxed lunch turns to tragedy

September 10, 2001 11:00 pm

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

A leisurely Sunday breakfast on the Rogue River turned into an emergency rescue scene for three Crescent City and Fort Dick volunteer firefighters and two registered nurses.

Firefighter Robert Aton and his family were hoping for a relaxing weekend with their friends at the Half Moon Bar Lodge up the Rogue River. Instead they were forced to witness a plane crash and scramble through the hilly wilderness to aide the victims.

It was so ironic. We thought we would get away for a little vacation after the Alexandres barn fire, Aton said.

Clay Warden, another Crescent City volunteer fireman and Cary Campbell of the Fort Dick Volunteer Fire Department were with Aton at the lodge, he said.

Just as the group finished breakfast, Aton said they heard a plane buzzing a nearby field.

We thought oh cool, lets go watch the plane land and we kept expecting it to come around the mountain, but it didnt, Aton said.

Then, suddenly, the plane went vertical, the engine quit and the trio moved to a different vantage point to see the small plane careen into the trees.

They scrambled to the crash site through dense brush and forest. When they arrived, the pilot was still alive but his passenger was not, according to Aton.

Pilot Billy Joe Pyatt, 27, of Folsom suffered shoulder injuries. His father-in-law and passenger, Hillary Dean Gargile of Trinity Center, also a pilot, died as a result of head and chest trauma.

A helicopter from the Department of Forestry was sent to transport the pilot to Agness. He was then transferred to Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach.

Though Aton is specially trained in attending to airplane crash rescue missions, he and his colleagues have never had to deal with a real crash scene especially on their own.

Crescent Citys Volunteer Fire Department recently won the contract to protect Crescent Citys airport and Aton was named chief of that effort. Hes been going to Salt Lake City each year to get that special training.