Exhaustive search launched to find vets

By Don McAlavy: Local columnist

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will run next Sunday.

I was about 16 years old in the summer of 1947. About sundown our paperboy delivered the Clovis Evening News-Journal to our porch at 719 Wallace in Clovis. The tragic news in the paper that two of our young men in Clovis, Jimmie Gressett and John Hardisty had been lost in the northern mountains of New Mexico in an airplane startled all of Clovis.

Gressett and Hardisty had chartered a small plane, a Luscombe 75, from the small Clovis Airport at 14th and Thornton, operated by W. L. Goedeke. Gressett and Hardisty, both veterans of the Air Force and of service during World War II, had private pilots’ licenses, and were working for commercial businesses in Clovis.

The young men were described as quiet and reliable, and as being unlikely to have engaged in any foolish or hazardous flying.
Unexplainable was the fact that they had been instructed to stop at Wagon Mound for refueling and a check of their plane, and failed to do so.

Location of the plane, almost directly on the airline course from Clovis to Eagle Nest Lake, indicated to airport personnel that they decided to go on to their destination, without making the stop at Wagon Mound. Gressett and Hardisty had planned to join Gressett’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Aubra Gressett for a fishing trip Sunday.

Eight days after they left Clovis on what was to have been a weekend pleasure trip, the two were found dead Sunday in the cabin of their chartered plane, which had crashed into the side of a narrow canyon near the top of a mountain only 20 miles short of their destination.

Spotted from the air about 9 a.m. Sunday by one of scores of pilots, who had been engaged in the week-long search for the two men, the plane was barely visible from the air, hidden by dense foliage of trees growing on the side of a ravine, which was 400 to 600 feet deep.

The crash occurred a mile and a half east of Black Lake, 20 miles from Eagle Nest Lake. Charley Boyd, operator of Boyd’s Aerial Service in Santa Fe, accompanied by state policeman Jerry Brunk as an observer, located the wreckage and guided other planes and ground-searching parties to the site of the crash.

Boyd, a veteran mountain flier, had maintained throughout the search that the two Clovis men would be found in the rough region just south of Eagle Nest Lake, and had concentrated his search in that area. The difficulty of seeing the small Luscombe 75, in spite of its brilliant silver and maroon coloring, is indicated by the fact that not only Boyd, but other planes engaged in the search, had flown over the spot repeatedly during the week.

Searchers declared that literally hundreds of people, many of them from Clovis, were in the northern part of the state Sunday cooperating in the search and local men paid high tribute to fliers and individuals from other cities in the state who cooperated so willing and so exhaustively.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telecopelab.com