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‘I’ll always fly with you’: Pilot, passenger killed in Lake CdA crash remembered

UPDATED: Fri., July 10, 2020

Jay Cawley spent a lifetime flying where no one else would.

An avid fisherman and hunter with a deep respect for the outdoors, the 67-year-old Lewiston resident often swooped into remote corners of the backcountry and wilderness looking for the next big fish or quiet forest clearing. He frequently landed on tiny, short airstrips or just the nearest available flat spot of dirt. Most pilots wouldn’t be so brave, said his daughter, Jessica Cawley.

“But Dad was always so safe,” Jessica said. “I was always scared of flying in the backcountry. But I told him ‘I’ll always fly with you,’ because I knew it would be the safest.”

Cawley was flying over Lake Coeur d’Alene with Kelly Kreeger of Rocklin, California, on Sunday afternoon. They were tagging along with a group of World War II-era warplanes flying over the region to celebrate the Fourth of July. Cawley was a supporter of the museum that organized the flight, Hangar180 in Lewiston, and he and Kreeger traced their path in his Cessna TU206G just for fun, sometimes following behind, sometimes ahead of them.

Around 2:20 p.m. that Sunday, his plane collided with a seaplane carrying five passengers over the lake. All eight occupants of the two planes were killed.

The other plane’s passengers were Sean Fredrickson of Lake Oswego, Oregon, his three children, Hayden, Quinn and Sofie, an unidentified male passenger and their pilot, Neil Lunt of Liberty Lake.

Recovery efforts have been ongoing in the days since, with seven of the eight victims having now been recovered from the lake.

The final two of the eight victims were discovered just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, along with the main body of the Cessna. The crash site was under 124 feet of water, the sheriff’s office said.

Technical rescue divers, along with the Kootenai County sonar team and dive rescue team, were able to recover one of the victims. The second victim is still in the plane wreckage and was unable to be recovered by divers.

Cawley grew up on his family’s airstrip in Buckley, Washington. He and his two brothers were flying planes solo by age 16. He learned from his father how to rebuild and restore vintage airplanes, and was one of the “finest in the world” at doing so, according to his friend Mark Heuett.

Heuett and Cawley had met when Cawley worked at Cascade Airways, a now-defunct regional airline serving the Northwest. Cawley later went to work for Grangeville Air Service, then settled down in Lewiston when he met his wife, Becky. He and Becky separated about 20 years ago, but remained very close, Heuett said. Cawley lived in Lewiston, working as a corporate pilot for a rock-crushing company, for more than 25 years.

He and Heuett remained best friends for 42 years. Many times, he’d fly over to Heuett’s ranch in Troy, Oregon, for breakfast. He’d circle the house in his plane, hollering out the window, “Is the coffee ready yet?”

“I always accused him of being able to smell good cooking 100 miles away,” Heuett said. “He always arrived exactly before it was ready.”

Hawley mentored countless up-and-coming pilots over those years, teaching them all he knew about the inner and outer workings of airplanes.

He always offered great advice when you needed, Heuett said, but was quick to call you out if you weren’t up to snuff, too.

“He was a great wit,” Heuett said. “He always had the right word at the tip of his tongue.”

Jessica Cawley remembers a lot of those lessons and witticisms from her childhood. Her father taught her everything – how to ride a bike, how to fly a kite and how to brush her teeth, which he’d always remind her and her brother Jake of by saying, “Only brush the ones you want to keep.”

Her dad was a very “particular” person, she said, always focused on the little details with an eye to the big picture. He’d get mad at you for fogging up the bathroom with a long shower, Jessica said, but that’s only because he worried about mold in the long run.

Cawley had an immense circle of friends, many of them fellow pilots and mechanics, Jessica said. He was almost always on the phone with someone or another catching up. He and Jessica talked on the phone almost every day – he was at the top of her favorite contacts list in her phone.

It seemed every time she’d come home to visit, Cawley would end up sketching out a schematic or explaining the complexities of a combustion engine to her. That’s just what he was best at, she said.

Kreeger, 61, was from the Auburn, California, area. She retired from her job in Placer County’s film office in 2014 and dedicated much of the rest of her life to aviation, said her friend and former coworker Juli Johnston.

Kreeger loved fast cars, and always had the newest model, Johnston said. She met World War II flying ace Col. Bud Anderson at an event, and from then on was smitten with airplanes, especially historic ones. She and Anderson became close, with Kreeger going on to be the chair of his fan club and supporting him during appearances at airshows.

She was an animal lover and always had her three Schnauzers following her around at home, Johnston said. Beyond aviation, her second passion was Japanese gardening – her backyard was a “paradise,” perfect for hosting work Christmas parties every year.

When she entered a room, “you knew it,” Johnston said. Through her job at the film office, Kreeger met plenty of celebrities, from “Sully” Sullenberger to Kermit the Frog. And she was always absolutely thrilled about it, Johnston said.

Though she’d retired a few years earlier, Johnston said Kreeger never had a dull moment.

“She spent all her time doing things for other people,” Johnston said. “She always referred to herself as a ‘ditsy blonde,’ but she was a whip.”

Jan Johnson, a pilot who takes her 75-year-old warbird to air shows around the country, had run into Kreeger many times at shows where she was with Anderson.

Johnson said she’d always admired Kreeger for her work with Anderson, which she said made sure heroes like him were remembered by new generations. Kreeger had never become a pilot, but as an “aviation superfan,” she embraced their world and brought it to a larger swath of people, Johnson said.

“We all want kids to realize there’s a world out there with living, breathing heroes, and big machines that snort and blow smoke and do cool things,” Johnson said. “That’s what I think her legacy will be.”

Juli Johnston said Kreeger’s friends are planning to create a scholarship for youth in aviation in her memory. It was only fitting, Johnston said, that she went out doing exactly what she loved so much.

“When a pilot dies, it’s like peeling off from the formation – it’s called flying west,” Jan Johnson said. “Kelly flew west, and she’s going on to bigger and better things.”

Jessica Cawley said that after so many years, and so many tricky and dangerous adventures in a plane, it was shocking that her dad would ever have been involved in such an accident.

“He was the kind of person you wanted to be your pilot,” Jessica said. “He knew how the engine was working just by listening to the sound.”

He and Jessica had a tradition of going fishing on the Fourth of July. But they were both busy this year, so they’d planned to meet up this week instead.

“I keep thinking he’ll walk through the door soon,” Jessica said.

“He was so safe. It doesn’t seem real this could have happened.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Emma Epperly contributed to this report.

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