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'The best pilot I know': INW aviation community remembers friend killed in Coeur d'Alene collision

Jay Cawley was identified as the sixth person killed in the mid-air crash on Sunday.

Family and friends of Jay Cawley posted their memorials on Facebook this week, identifying him as one of two people in a Cessna that collided with a seaplane above Lake Coeur d'Alene on Sunday.

Among them, Gary Peters, who says he's been close friends with Cawley for 25 years. They met through their shared love of flying.

"Jay's been flying his entire life, it's the only job he's ever had," said Peters. "He's probably the best Cessna, the best anything pilot I know, to be honest with you."

The two were affiliated with Hangar180, a Lewiston-based aviation group and museum. The friends had a particular passion for World War era aircraft.

"[Jay] was so responsible for keeping aviation and history alive," said Peters.

This past weekend, the group was flying around the Inland Northwest to share some of the classic planes with the public. They were doing what they loved most, but the trip ended in tragedy.

"Unfortunately, in the aviation world, it can take you to the highest of highs and it can take you to the lowest of lows, very quickly," said Peters. "And that's exactly what happened this weekend. We were absolutely at the highest of our high after Saturday, being able to share the aircraft with the region and having no problems to speak of, and everybody was safe. I was just so proud of everyone. The effort. The job we did. And you're just on cloud nine and you come down here and as soon as you land you learn this, and it takes the wind out of your sails pretty fast."

Peters said when he landed he'd heard there'd been some type of plane crash. At first they weren't sure who was involved, but they soon found out.

"All the sudden I think someone saw the end number of the plane and of course I immediately recognized it and just about fell to [my] knees," said Peters. "You know of course you're just immediately praying. For them and their families. It's tough."

Cawley's death is an immense loss, and not only for close friends and family.

"Huge blow to the aviation community. He was always the first one to offer to teach kids to fly, or if anyone was in a bind and needed some help, he was just an amazing giver," said Peters.

The community has lost friends before, he said. And while it doesn't get easier, it helps by others who loved Cawley and the planes he devoted his life to.

"We've been down this road before unfortunately. It's the support you have of your friends and family," said Peters on Monday. "We had all of our aviation group with us yesterday, so we were just able to get together and lean on each other."