Two Roaring Fork Valley residents who were killed in a small-plane crash in Texas on Wednesday were being remembered following the tragedy, one as a Tennessee native who chased his cowboy dream in Colorado and the other as an avid boater, outdoorsman and “great friend” who grew up in Aspen.
David Bradley Patton, 51, of Carbondale, and Matthew Axtell, 35, of Basalt, were in a plane piloted by Thomas Joseph Taylor, 61, of Abilene, Texas, when it crashed in a remote part of West Texas after departing Aspen earlier that day. All three were killed.
Axtell grew up in Aspen and was married to Dayna Horton in 2011 in Kona, Hawaii. They had since divorced. Horton said that Axtell was a huge animal lover, especially of his two boxer dogs, Mack and Peter.
Horton said that Axtell’s high school auto-mechanics teacher, Mr. Larson, told his mom that he was the best student he ever had. Axtell went on to excel wildly with auto engineering and mechanics.
“Matt was infinitely devoted to his friends and helping people, whether they were broken down on the side of the road or dealing with a loss in their family,” Horton said in an email to the Times. “When you were with Matt, he was very present. He was grounded and funny. He was incredibly gentle, and people were attracted to his calming nature. His passion was being an untrained master chef and feeding people. Friends and family begged him to open a restaurant or at least reveal his secret recipes, to which he responded, ‘Never!’”
Sara Broome is a friend of Axtell’s and was with him Tuesday.
“He was laughing like a kid all night, having the best time on his first Tuesday Cruise-day in Aspen,” Broome said. “Matty was so genuine and so sweet, and he should still be here. I really want to send lots of love to his family and friends. I’m so sorry for the loss of such an amazing life.”
Aidan Wynn, the manager of El Rincon restaurant in Aspen, grew up with Axtell in town.
“He had the biggest heart, and second to my real little brother, he was the best ‘little brother’ anyone could have asked for,” Wynn said in an email. “He became an incredibly important part of my life, and I was proud to call him a friend and brother.”
Friends remembered Patton fondly, as well.
Steve Groom, of Carbondale, said Patton “was one of those guys who would climb to a mountaintop for you, especially if it involved hunting.”
He recalled that Patton showed up one day at the Carbondale rodeo grounds, which Groom helps maintain, with a couple of trailers full of washed sand that he had salvaged from sandbags that had been used to protect against flooding along the Roaring Fork River near Basalt.
“He asked if we could use it, and I said, ‘Heck yeah,’” Groom said. “We’ve been using it ever since.”
Patton also was an avid rodeo fan and often helped Groom’s brother, Jeff Groom, with his cattle operation at the St. Benedict’s Monastery in Old Snowmass.
“He was always on horseback, whether it was out moving cows, fixing fences or just helping anybody and any way he could,” Steve Groom said.
Patton also was remembered Thursday in Portland, Tennessee, where he grew up and went to high school.
“I can say that David chased his dream and caught it,” high school classmate Marty Bullington told The Portland Leader newspaper. “He was a cowboy and was always on a horse. He used to ride bulls in high school.”
Patton’s parents still live in Portland.
A Federal Aviation Administration statement said the single-engine Piper PA-46 aircraft dropped off of air-traffic radar shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday while en route from Aspen to Brenham, Texas. Law enforcement officials searching for the aircraft found the wreckage near Morton, about 50 miles west of Lubbock, Texas.
Taylor, a Texas oilman who once chaired the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, was piloting the plane, the Cochran County Sheriff’s Office said. A spokesman for the alliance said that Taylor often traveled to Aspen for vacation. The aircraft was registered to Flying Lazy T LLC in Abilene, a town of about 120,000 residents roughly 150 miles west of Fort Worth.
A neighbor who lives directly across from the pasture where the plane crashed said strong storms with winds reaching 40 mph and pingpong-ball-sized hail were hitting the area at the time of the accident.
Glenwood Springs Post Independent reporter John Stroud, The Associated Press and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal contributed to this report.