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Montana family mourning loss of pilot

Man dies after crashing his plane near U.S. 40

A Montana family is mourning the loss of their husband, father and grandfather this week after the 50-year-old man crashed in an airplane in Summit County while flying solo along a route he knew well. Thomas Mark Harmon, 50, of Laurel, Mont., died at the scene Monday after crashing his small plane into a hillside east of U.S. 40 near Jordanelle Reservoir and the Wasatch County line. "He was wonderful," said the man’s 50-year-old wife Wanda Harmon during a telephone interview Tuesday. "He was my best friend."

Harmon had five grandchildren and a sixth on the way, she lamented tearfully. "He flew back and forth to Utah every weekend," Wanda said. The man owned the single-engine aircraft he used to commute between Billings, Mont. and Spanish Fork, while working since October as an engineer at a power plant in Utah County, she said, adding that he would fly home Friday evening and back to Utah on Monday. The avid pilot, who has flown solo to the East Coast, California and several times to Alaska, owned two airplanes, she said. "All with a high school education, and he was so proud of doing it without having a college degree," Wanda said about the North Carolina native. "When he got out of high school he decided he didn’t want to work in a factory and he came out West on a hunting trip and decided he was going to make Montana his home."

Harmon was often teased because his Southern accent lingered. "They would always say, ‘Where you from?’ Southern Montana he would always say," Harmon’s wife joked. Her late husband loved to hunt and fish, she said. "He was going to teach me how to shoot I wanted him to teach me," Wanda said, adding that he is survived also by his son Chris and daughter, Amanda Carlson. Wallsburg resident Marty Allen said he was driving on eastbound U.S. 40 looking for wildlife around 3:30 p.m. when he spotted a colorful section of the plane’s tail sticking out of a clump of trees.

"I was just driving, minding my own business," the 22-year-old said. "You don’t see that every day." Allen contacted emergency dispatchers after he hiked hundreds of feet to the site of the crash and found Harmon’s body hunched over in the cockpit. He waited for officers to arrive.

"I noticed that there were not foot tracks and realized there was a problem," Allen said, adding that the man’s head appeared to have penetrated a panel of gauges. "He was in the driver seat."

There was extensive damage to the nose of the plane and portions of the engine and passenger side were torn apart, Allen said.

"It had probably been down for an hour or so," he continued, adding, "there was about an inch of snow on the wings."

As Federal Aviation Administration officials investigated the crash Tuesday, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds was unclear whether the crash could be blamed on icy conditions or mechanical problems with the Beechcraft plane. "My guess is it’s probably going to be weather related," Edmunds said. "It’s a pretty dramatic accident, like all plane accidents typically are." Harmon’s body was delivered to the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office Monday night, the sheriff said. "Apparently, [Harmon] went off the radar scope quite a long time ago," Edmunds said from near the scene of the crash.

The pilot may have struck a mountain ridge before his plane barreled through a grove of trees, said Doug Murdock, medical director for Wasatch County Emergency Medical Services.

"It looks like he may have tried to put it down," Murdock said. "A lot of the oak brush has been knocked down." Edmunds, who wasn’t sure what time the plane crashed, said the aircraft could be the same low-flying plane the Summit County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint about Monday around 12:30 p.m.

"The weather was horrible," the sheriff said, adding that a caller claimed the plane was flying only 50 feet above the road.

Search-and-rescue volunteers accessed the crash site via snowmobiles to remove Harmon’s body from the mountain. Nobody saw the plane go down and there was no explosion, the sheriff said.


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