Father’s Day weekend tragedy claims Skillman native and his son


Robert Pluta grew up in the Skillman section of Montgomery.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Robert Pluta grew up in the Skillman section of Montgomery, far removed from the desert of eastern New Mexico where his life and that of his 21-year-old son ended last month.
Pluta, 57, and his oldest son, also named Robert, had gone hiking in Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a father-son outing, only for their bodies to be found a day apart, June 19 and 20. Local media coverage of their deaths cited New Mexico State Police suspecting the Plutas died of heat exhaustion, amid temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. A message at the Eddy County Medical Examiner’s office was not returned.
Though he had been living in Corpus Christi, Texas, Pluta had roots in New Jersey.
Diane Loomis, Robert’s sister, now of Orange County, California, said her brother had graduated from Montgomery High School in 1978 and went to Wheaton College, where he earned a degree in music education. Attending college in Indiana, she would visit him since it was easy for her to get to Chicago, she said.
Loomis remembered her brother as quiet and reserved, who pursued his interest playing the clarinet. “He excelled in music,” she said.
After graduation, Pluta spent two years living back at home before enlisting in the Air Force, in 1984, and was part of the Air Force Band as a clarinetist, his sister said. Later he attended the University of Georgia to earn a master’s degree to become an audiologist, and subsequently worked for Veterans Affairs as a civilian employee after retiring from the Air Force.
Working as an audiologist, Loomis said, was a “combination of his love of music, in that it’s hearing and it’s listening – things that you need as a musician. And then he got the scientific, the helping people side of him,” she said.
He was about to start a new job, in the private sector, before his death, she said.
The National Park Service, in a news release, indicated that Pluta’s wife, Lillian, had contacted the park June 19 saying she had not heard from her husband or son for five days and that she knew they were going to the park.
A search by authorities first found the Plutas’ truck, parked at the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead, according to the National Park Service. The son’s body was found June 19 nearly a mile and half from the trailhead, while the father was found the next day about two and a half miles away from the trail head, the Park Service said.
“The two had not applied for an overnight permit and were apparently on a day hike,” the Park Service release said.
Loomis recalled Robert Pluta as a good brother devoted to his family.
“His love of music was everywhere with what he did,” she said.