Maj. William Deming Gray, the vice wing commander for the Civil Air Patrol's Tennessee Wing, died Sunday after falling 30 feet off a cliff in the 8000 block of Laurel Trail on Signal Mountain, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office confirmed.
Gray, 62, had been clearing brush on his property since that morning, sheriff's office spokesperson Matt Lea said in an email. Sheriff's deputies and rescue personnel were called around 7 p.m. after Gray's family became concerned, went to check on him and found that he'd fallen off a ledge at the back of the property.
Deputies and rescue personnel retrieved him, authorities said, but he had already died.
As in all deaths found to be unusual or unnatural, notifying the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office is required so that an investigation into the manner and cause of death can be conducted, Lea said. The sheriff's office also conducts a parallel investigation focusing on circumstances surrounding the death and shares that information with the medical examiner's office.
In this case, preliminary findings show that all evidence points to Gray's fall being accidental, Lea said.
Gray joined the Civil Air Patrol as a member of the Choo Choo Senior Squadron — the air patrol's Chattanooga chapter — in 2008 and rose to the position of squadron commander in 2010, the air patrol's Tennessee Wing spokesperson Maj. Clarence Juneau said in a statement.
Some of Gray's accomplishments include many flights on search and rescue missions, disaster relief missions and other missions in support of various local, state, and federal agencies, Juneau added. He was the recipient of several decorations including the Commander's Commendation Award and the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award.
In March 2012, Gray led part of the effort to search for missing hiker Derek Lueking, who was 24.
Lueking, said to be a survivalist, had been missing since the week before. His vehicle had been found in the parking lot near Clingman's Dome at Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The searches were unsuccessful, though, and Lueking has yet to be found, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
"Major Gray will always be known for his proficiency as an aviator and the love of flying he shared with Civil Air Patrol cadets," Juneau said. "Many young cadets took their first airplane and glider flights with Deming, taking the controls in their own hands under his watchful supervision. The Southeast Region Glider Flight Academy deeply appreciates the five years he served as a tow plane pilot, helping to teach 20 cadets each summer how to fly gliders."
Gray became the Tennessee Wing vice commander in April 2019. At the same time, he served as the Tennessee Wing assistant director of operations and assistant deputy chief of staff/operations for the air patrol's Southeast region.
He also held several staff positions, Juneau added, including aerospace education officer, disaster preparedness officer, emergency services officer and trainer, public affairs officer and search and rescue officer.
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