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Architect died in crash

Flight instructor also was killed in Montrose accident

Published July 5, 2006 at midnight

An Aspen architect who made his reputation designing multimillion-dollar homes in the Colorado Rockies died Monday in a plane crash at Montrose as he was checking out a newly purchased craft with his flight instructor.

David F. Gibson, 61, who commuted by air between architectural studios in Aspen and Telluride, was reacclimatizing himself to flying after giving it up during treatment for cancer, friends said.

Gibson was flying with Larry Smalley, 65, of Rifle, a long-time flight instructor. Smalley also died when the airplane slammed into a tractor-trailer parked on a quiet residential street.

"I saw (Gibson) at the airport, and he was excited about flying again," said Aspen architect Charles Cunniffe, 54, who also pilots his private plane between offices in Western Slope resort towns.

The news of Gibson's death, contrasted with his elation at beating cancer, cast a pall over the satiric, nontraditional Fourth of July parade in Aspen, where he had worked practically since graduating from the Yale School of Architecture more than 30 years ago.

"He was one of the star architects in our class at Yale," said classmate Harry Teague, who also settled in Aspen. "Everyone would look forward to seeing what he came up with."

After "a tumultuous personal life in his early years," Gibson found personal tranquility as a born-again Christian, Teague said.

"It's very difficult in this field because you're working with very rich people who know what they want," Teague said. "But Dave was working on a whole different level."

Gibson and Smalley died about 10 a.m. Monday when the single-engine Beech Bonanza hit the tractor-trailer a few blocks from the Montrose Regional Airport. They had been practicing touch-and-goes - approaches, landings and takeoffs without stopping - moments before the crash.

Montrose, about 180 miles southwest of Denver, was the site of a November 2004 crash that killed three people, including the son of NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol and actress Susan Saint James. The National Transportation Safety Board said ice on the wings was a factor in that crash.

Gibson's blue-and-white aircraft, designed to carry as many as six, was built in 1981, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The continuing investigation has found evidence that the propeller was not turning when the airplane hit the truck, Montrose County authorities said. No one on the ground was hurt.

Authorities said Gibson, who had been flying about 10 years, probably scheduled Monday's flight to update his pilot's license and insurance coverage so he could begin solo operation of the plane he purchased about a week ago from a Kansas company.

A woman who answered the telephone at Smalley's home Tuesday in Rifle said the family did not wish to speak so soon after the accident.

Though Gibson designed a variety of structures, he was widely known and recognized for creating custom vacation homes for well-heeled clients who sought seclusion in the mountains. A $2 million, 6,000-square-foot home near Ridgway he designed for a New Orleans plastic surgeon was honored both for its design and its energy efficiency.

Aspen architect Larry Yaw, who happened to be flying Monday from Aspen to Telluride when his pilot heard radio traffic about the Montrose crash, saluted Gibson as an artist and individual.

"His work and his life made us all better as architects," Yaw said. "When Dave had to make hard choices, he made them on the basis of principle."

Cheri R. Gerou, president of the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said Gibson's "creativity and passion left an indelible mark on the architecture of the state. . . . He will be missed."

Other colleagues attributed Gibson's success to his skill at listening to his clients and then transforming their words into sumptuous stone, glass and timber mountain mansions.

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