Legendary Pilot's Friend Keeps Looking -- Veteran Mount Rainier Flier, 84, Has Been Missing Since May 22

The official search for legendary 84-year-old mountain pilot Jim Beech was officially called off last week.

But his longtime friend, Evan Kast, 65, was up in the air again yesterday searching around Mount Rainier for traces of Beech's single-engine brown Cessna 172. He did not spot the craft.

Shortly after noon May 22 Beech of Ashford, Pierce County, did something uncustomary since he had open-heart surgery several years ago - he flew alone out of Eatonville Airport in Pierce County.

That was the last time he was seen. Friends fear he is dead.

Beech, a native of Pittsburgh, settled in Ashford in 1929 and was fascinated by the mountains, especially Mount Rainier.

He taught piano until he learned to fly in World War II.

Well-known for air searches around Mount Rainier and for work with the National Park Service, Beech did supply drops for famous mountaineers around the world, including Jim and Lou Whittaker.

He flew guided scenic flights around the mountain for customers until he retired in the mid-1980s, but continued to give tours for friends.

"Beech taught me mountain flying 25 years ago," Kast said.

"He was an extremely good pilot," said Eleanor Kast, wife of Evan Kast.

She said Beech taught her husband "how to fly around the mountain."

The veteran pilot often called on Evan Kast to accompany him on flights after Beech's health declined, he said. The Kasts live east of Elbe, Pierce County.

"There have been a lot of theories that he just flew into the mountains," Kast said. "But if the had that idea, he wouldn't have had the plane checked the day before."

Kast said he asked a mechanic to inspect the craft after a rough landing that day after a short flight he made alone because Kast was unavailable.

Beech had asked Evan Kast to go up for a short flight the day before he disappeared, but because her husband was unavailable, he flew alone and returned safely, Eleanor Kast said.

Bill Hamilton of the State Aeronautics Division said the search, involving Civil Air Patrol planes, concentrated around Mount Rainier and parts of Mount St. Helens last weekend.

It was called off Monday night. Hamilton said the official search would be resumed only if new information turns up.

No flight plan was made and no one knows what in direction Beech went or how much fuel he carried, Hamilton said.

A widower, Beech has a brother and sister in Pennsylvania and a granddaughter in California.

Hamilton said anyone with information on the missing plane should telephone the Aeronautics Division at 1-800-552-0666.