No sign of Tonasket pilot since July 23

Ed and Claire Jeffko

Ed and Claire Jeffko

TONASKET – Search agencies suspended their search for Tonasket’s Ed Jeffko on Sunday, July 29, after six days of looking for the pilot and his small plane that hasn’t been seen or heard from since July 23.

“They did suspend the (official) search on Sunday,” said Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb, who is a close friend of the family. “But just because he hasn’t been found yet doesn’t mean a miracle couldn’t happen.

“It’s not going to be easy at all for (Ed’s wife) Claire, no matter what happens.”

Jeffko took off from the Tonasket Airport on Monday morning and never arrived at his destination in Sequim, where he’d headed to pick up a family member. Searches concentrated on areas of the North Cascades where weather conditions could have made flying difficult, according to a WSDOT press release.

Washington State Department of Transportation Aviation Emergency Services coordinated the search, according to the release. Searchers from WSDOT, the Civil Air Patrol and Washington Air Search and Rescue set up a search base at Wenatchee’s Pangborn Memorial Airport. Douglas County emergency officials supported aviation crews in Wenatchee. Search crews conducted more than 100 flights over areas of the Cascade Mountains where Jeffko was thought to have flown.

Jeffko apparently did not file a flight plan, and officials were unable to locate the plane’s emergency beacon. Jeffko was very familiar with the route, and typically flew IFR – “I Follow Road” – which many small plane pilots use to maximize their chances in case of the need of an emergency landing.

Plumb said that family, friends and neighbors have gathered to support his wife.

“There have been flocks of people over there,” Plumb said. “Claire is obviously distraught, but they’ve been there for so many people. This is such a tight community, and people are there for them now.

“When Claire told me (that Ed was missing) all I could do is give her a hug. There wasn’t really much I could say.”

There will be a candlelight vigil for the Jeffkos on Friday, Aug. 3, beginning at 9 p.m. at the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket and proceeding to the Fourth Street bridge.

Plumb said that Ed Jeffko, 72, a former Tonasket City Council member, was instrumental in getting the new Fourth Street Bridge constructed over the Okanogan River and was a key member of Mayor Dave Caddy’s economic development team in the 90s.

The Jeffkos also ran the old Riverview Market – “their fried chicken was something to die for,” Plumb said – and own the Riverview Mobile Home and RV Park.

“They’ve employed lots of people who needed jobs,” Plumb said. “They didn’t hesitate to give me – a 22-year-old – a spot in their park. It seems like everyone and their dog have lived there at some point.

“They’re always good to anyone who might be downtrodden or in a need of a fresh start.”

Plumb said that Jeffko was one of his first appointments as mayor, to the civil service commission, and has been active in promoting the Tonasket Airport.

“He’s done a great job of helping people realize and has emphasized how critical the airport is for us,” Plumb said.

Jeffko has been a pilot for about 40 years, and the single-engine white and yellow Glasair that he built “was his pride and joy,” Plumb said. “He did built it himself. He worked on it, it seemed like forever, and he’s been flying this plane for a couple of years. It wasn’t an ‘experimental’ plane; it was a kit. He’s an excellent engineer and has been talking to people nationwide on things to enhance, like the radio system.

“He’s one of the most meticulous people I’ve ever known.”

Hikers and backpackers in the areas near US-2 and SR-20 through the Cascades have also been asked to keep a lookout for Jeffko or is plane.

Anyone who may have seen Jeffko or his aircraft is asked to contact the search base at Missingaircraft@wsdot.wa.gov or (360) 410-7757.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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