I would have gladly traded places with him. I've had a full life. And he had so much life to live with his wife and children. —Dave Barton
ST. GEORGE — Matt Lewis was a good man.
So says his father-in-law, who watched Lewis create a "fairy tale" of love and happiness for his daughter and granddaughters. And the brother-in-law who was with Lewis when he died and who tried to revive him for a solid hour. And from his widow, the woman who loved him most and can't bring herself to talk about him just yet.
"I would have gladly traded places with him," Dave Barton said of Lewis, his son-in-law. "I've had a full life. And he had so much life to live with his wife and children."
Lewis was only 33 when he jumped Saturday from Joe Blake Hill, just south of the Utah border in the Mojave Desert, with a paraglider strapped to his back.
"Matt was a natural-born pilot," Brad Barton said. "Not every pilot has the instinct and the natural coordination to fly, and he picked it up really fast and just knew it really well."
Saturday was as perfect a day as they come for paragliding. Brad Barton introduced Lewis to the sport and was there during his brother-in-law's training.
The two went together as often as they could.
He was with Lewis on that clear day — was directly behind him and waiting to follow — when Lewis took off. They had run through the checklist and inspection of the required gear.
Brad Barton was tightening his own strings and preparing to run when he saw the right wing of Lewis' paraglider collapse. The device failed to open itself back up and Lewis disappeared from view.
Minutes later, Brad was praying for a miracle.
Lewis married Crystal Barton in August of 2009. They met as teenagers. Years later, when they had grown and married other people, she interviewed him for a job opening at the business she shared with her then-husband. She didn't give him the job, but later, when they had both divorced, he called and asked to see her.
She was reluctant, but he pursued her. They talked on the phone for three weeks before she agreed to see him. Soon after, he asked her to marry him. And then he asked her again.
"He asked numerous times," Dave Barton recalled. "He absolutely adored her and wanted to be part of her life and kids' lives and she finally just said, 'This guy really means it.' And he did."
The couple eloped in Las Vegas, but had a marriage ceremony the next year. Dave Barton said Lewis invited his "best friend" to the wedding, but everyone there thought they were his "best friend."
"Not many people can be so free with their love and kindness, and it was contagious," he said of his son-in-law. "He just always made you feel like he wanted you to be happy and be his friend."
Crystal Lewis had two girls and a boy from her previous marriage, and Dave Barton said Matt Lewis took them in as his own. He woke up in the morning and made their lunches. He was quick to help them with schoolwork. He watched videos on YouTube about how to French braid hair.
The couple, who recently bought a home in Ivins, decided to have a child together. Just three weeks ago, they welcomed daughter Victoria into the family.
"(Matt Lewis) was so proud three weeks ago that he became a father," Dave Barton said. "He said, 'Now, I have four children and we're a complete family.' He was 33 years old. My daughter's 32. They were starting a phase of life you'd never think that would end this soon."
Brad ran 180 feet down the mountainside to where his brother-in-law lay on the ground.
"I didn't think for a second that he was going to be gone," he said. "The first thing I did was run up to his head and said, 'Matt, are you OK? Matt, Matt. Say something, buddy.'
"I thought I heard him breathe. I don't know if I imagined that, if it was my own breath or the wind."
He debated whether to turn his brother-in-law onto his back, remembering stories he'd heard of paralysis, but decided he had to in order to administer CPR. Meanwhile, a third friend and pilot who was more familiar with the area was trying to describe their location to emergency dispatchers.
Twenty minutes later, Brad heard the sirens. It was another 20 before they were able to get out of the area, but it was much longer before Brad stopped trying to save his brother-in-law.
"I gave him CPR for about an hour and five minutes," he said. "(The other pilot) helped me and we traded off. He just never woke up. I could see the head lacerations and the injuries, but at that point, I just didn't care. I was just trying to keep him alive."
In the midst of all of this, he also called his sister. She asked that the phone be placed next to her husband's ear.
"She just kind of pleaded with Matt to hold on," Dave Barton said. "In desperation, that's what she felt was the thing to do."
Crystal also asked Brad to promise that he wouldn't give up on trying to revive her husband. He kept trying, even when paramedics told him that Matt was already dead.
"I still didn't accept the fact that he was gone," he said. "I didn't stop. I just kept going. I wasn't going to give up on him for her."
Finally, he saw Matt's eyes and knew he was gone. He huddled the search and rescue team and police officers around him and said a prayer.
"I asked for a miracle," Brad Barton said. "I don't exactly remember what I said, since I've said about a thousand since. … Each one of them gave me a hug and told me how sorry they were and I laid on top of Matt and told him I loved him."
Later, he was told by the medical examiner that Matt most likely died on impact.
As he and the other pilot talked about the accident that night, Brad said they both realized that about 20 minutes after Matt fell, they independently felt "an unexplainable, super strong feeling of peace come over us."
"I think that was Matt giving me a hug and saying, 'Brad, it's going to be OK.'"
There are a lot of things Brad Barton wishes he could have done differently Saturday. He would have had the GPS coordinates of his location when he called 911 so there would have been no confusion about where they were and what state they were in. He would have the satellite tracking device he typically carried with a 911 button that immediately calls search and rescue to an exact location.
"Don't think it can't happen to you," he said. "Nature is not forgiving. Be prepared — not only for yourself, with water and equipment and safety precautions. Make sure you know where you are in the case something does happen."
Paragliding is one of Brad's passions and gives him a way to relax and think. But he now questions if it's worth the risk.
"What I loved the most about him was how much he loved my sister and his kids," Brad Barton said. "He was really easy to talk to, he was a really good friend. He didn't judge anybody.
"We lost a great man and dad and friend and I think that it could have been prevented."
A fund for the Lewis family has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank under the name Matt Lewis Children's Fund.