Over the weekend, I was back at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona for the annual Gunsite Alumni Shoot (better known as GAS match). In case you missed my series back in April, you can check it out here.
The official shoot was on Saturday with a barbeque and get together Friday night. When I pulled up to the famous Raven gate around 4:30 pm, I knew something was wrong. There were media satellite trucks and Yavapai County Sheriff Department vehicles everywhere.
Luckily, my buddy Bob Shimizu was at the gate and he let me in. I made my way to the office and found one of my instructors, Dave Starin, and his wife, Karen, who works as a class coordinator. When I asked what was going on, they told me there had been a plane crash.
Earlier in the day at 12:30 pm, Buz Mills, the owner of Gunsite, watched the crash happen in horror after a Cessna 340 flew just feet above his head and crashed 150 yards behind the office. The plane made an extremely low pass over the property, and after attempting another extremely low pass, the right wing of the plane was severed upon striking a 40 foot tall radio tower. The wing rolled over the plane, immediately flipping it over and slamming it into the ground. The plane exploded into flames upon impact. Debris fell everywhere, and by the time it was over, there wasn't a plane left, just pieces. There were no survivors.
The plane was registered to Jim and Lisa Parrish, who were both Gunsite graduates and clients. Jim was the pilot. Gunsite instructor Mike Hughes and his wife Joy were also on the plane returning from a short trip to Laughlin, Nevada so Mike could help teach GAS the next day; he was scheduled to do the night shoot.
"While this is indeed a terrible tragedy, we had over 100 people between the Mess Deck and the Proshop and throughout the parking lot having lunch, shopping, making phone calls and so forth. Only by the grace of God was everyone on the ground spared. This incident could have been a major catastrophe. Please offer your prayers and condolences to all those affected," Mills said in a description of the incident.
Mike was a retired Lieutenant from the Denver Police Department. During his career, he held the positions of patrol officer, gang unit technician, accident investigation supervisor, police academy continuing education supervisor, field training supervisor, detail commander for a patrol district, arrest control instructor, pursuit intervention techniques instructor and pepperball, taser, less lethal shotgun and immediate action/rapid deployment Instructor. Mike also retired as a Major from the US Army Reserves with over 32 years experience. He started teaching at Gunsite 1991 where he served as range master for pistol, shotgun, carbine, battle rifle, Submachine gun and specialty classes. Mike's wife Joy was a multiple graduate of Gunsite and volunteered to help whenever the academy needed her. Joy didn't understand the word "no" and helped at the matches, in women's only classes -- even teaming up with a friend to make a beautiful American flag quilt that hangs in the Gunsite classroom. She was an active member of the Prescott community and helped raise money for local projects.
During my time in the 250 pistol course last spring, Mike was my instructor. He was loud, enthusiast and he expected me to do well. When I left for an afternoon with Dave Starin (my other instructor for the week) to film a package for "Hannity," Mike taught the other students in the class a special drill called "El Presidente." The drill would be used the next day for the final day and competition. When the next day arrived, I remember being upset with Mike for expecting me to walk up to the competition line ready to go when I had been gone for hours the day before. He didn't give me special treatment and expected me to get the job done after a short explanation. In the end, I got the job done.
Mike taught me a lot in a short period of time and he changed the way I, and thousands of others, think about self-defense and firearms. I am forever grateful. I didn't get the chance to get to know Mike's wife, Joy, but I did have the pleasure of meeting her briefly after class one day. She was kind and very beautiful. Everyone at Gunsite will miss her contagious smile and positive attitude.
Although it was a sad day for the Gunsite family, GAS match went on and the more than 200 participants had a great time. The weather was perfect, the sun was shining and the lead was flying, just as Mike and Joy would have wanted it.
(Mike and Joy Hughes)