For years, adults and children looked up to Gerald Gollehon Jr., a pilot and farmer beloved in his hometown of Wilbur.
Gollehon, 44, died Monday evening when his private plane crashed into a wheat field owned by his brother, James, just a quarter-mile from his own home. He was alone in the Cessna 185, which he flew during breaks from his job as a pilot for Alaska Airlines, his brother said Tuesday.
Although an official cause of death has not been announced, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane struck power lines. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
The Cessna crashed a quarter-mile from Gerald Gollehon’s private airstrip, five miles north of Wilbur. An FAA Web site used by pilots to find remote airfields warns of power lines 500 feet from the turf airstrip.
“He was an exceptional pilot,” said James Gollehon, 37. “Just a great person, a great person to know.”
Raised on the family farm, Gerald Gollehon was a Cub Scout leader and supported children’s sports. At an annual firefighters auction, he often would donate airplane rides, his brother said.
Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers said Gollehon was an “all-around community person.”
“It’s just a tragic accident that we feel very bad about,” Magers said. “Obviously, when he flies for a living, it’s tragic.”
Gollehon wanted to be a pilot since he was little, said his brother, who also is a private pilot. Their now-deceased father took them into the skies in his private plane.
After attending Eastern Washington University for a year or two, Gerald Gollehon transferred to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he earned a degree in aeronautical science. He worked for a commuter airline on the East Cost until the late 1980s, when he got a job at Alaska Airlines and eventually worked his way up to piloting Boeing 737s.
He moved back to Wilbur, a town of 1,000 about 60 miles west of Spokane, where he lived with his family among the wheat fields.
“He had some farm ground that he was farming,” James Gollehon said. “I think him and his son enjoyed farming together and flying together. His kids meant a lot to him.”
Survivors include his two elementary-age children, Brett and Allison, and his wife, Erin.
“She’s got a lot of support,” James Gollehon said. “The community has rallied around the family.”