Fiancée of auto journalist who disappeared five days ago fears he drowned while taking a swim break

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The fiancée of veteran automotive journalist who went missing on June 5 while test-driving a motorcycle for a story is worried he drowned while swimming in a river during a pit stop on his way home.

Authorities in California have now launched a desperate search for David Gordon Johnson, 44, who had been travelling on a Honda CB1000R through the state as part of a feature for Motorcyclist magazine when he disappeared.

Johnson was last heard from at 8:30am June 5, where he texted a friend a photo showing him sitting next to a creek near Sonora Pass, accompanied by a message saying he would be heading home shortly.

But Trop fears her husband-to-be later decided to take a spontaneous dip in a river he passed on his way home and fears he may have drowned.

‘He was probably swept away in the river,’ Trop, told ABC News. ‘The detective said the current has never been so fast and so high. He’s not really an experienced swimmer.’

Officers from the California Highway Patrol found Johnson’s Honda motorcycle parked in a rest-stop just outside of Mokelumne Hill, in Calaveras County.

The Honda was discovered after midnight on Saturday and was found alongside his helmets and gloves stacked atop the bike.

His phone, laptop and backpack were also found near-by, placed near the edge of the Mokelumne River.

Johnson’s wallet was found on Tuesday, but no trace of the 44-year-old has yet been unearthed by authorities.

Officials say the river is at high flow, and moving at a rate of more than 35mph as the state’s massive snowpacks are melting and pouring into surrounding waterways and creeks. 

Trop said Johnson was heading home to Sacramento after what was supposed to be only week-long trip for an upcoming article, but he was last heard from last Wednesday. 

The worried fiancée said she had already had one scare for her partner’s safety during his solo venture, when she couldn’t get hold of him for 12 hours across Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

He later messaged her to say his cellphone had died and he had been navigating tricky and icy-roads after sunset.

‘I had a great time before it got dark, Johnson’s text read, as reported by KCRA. ‘The part of the Sierra is just stupidly spectacular.

‘Anyway, I’m sorry to have worried you,’ he continued. ‘Yes, I am okay and alive but I am WIPED.’

He was reported missing later that same day. 

Trop says she’s holding on to hope that her husband-to-be is alive. The couple planned to announce their engagement publicly next week and had plans to take a cruise on the Queen Mary 2.

They had spent the weekend together in Los Angeles before Johnson headed off on his own to Northern California, making stops in Las Vegas and Mammoth along the way.  

‘He’s just incredible. Like magic. There’s no one like him,’ she said.

‘I just really hope he’s alive, because thinking about the alternative yesterday was . . . I don’t even have words for it,’ Trop told Car and Driver over the weekend.  

‘I was completely gutted, and I would still feel that way if they hadn’t found the bike.’   

She later added to the Washington Post: ‘He took a lot of bike trips in the area, so that was not unusual for him.’  

After two decades test-driving vehicles in the area, Tropp added that, ‘He knew the region really well,’ so is unlikely to have gotten lost. 

Johnson’s phone last pinged a cell tower in Amador County. 

Jonny Lieberman, senior features editor at Motor Trend, who met Johnson in 2002 and worked with him at the Jalopnik auto review website, described Johnson as at the top of his game, both professionally and personally. 

‘He told me he had never been happier and he had the perfect girlfriend,’ Lieberman  said. ‘Everything was going his way.’

Friend and industry colleague Julia LePalme said Johnson is especially adamant about remaining in contact with others while on a road trip by himself.

‘He is an avid motorcyclist. He was probably exhausted and fatigued and suffering from elevation sickness,’ LePalme said. ‘He’s a road warrior. He loves these road trips.’

Authorities began searching for Johnson on Saturday morning, one day after he was due to arrive at his home in Sacramento County. 

Efforts for Johnson’s search continue to expand, with boats, drones, helicopters and foot patrols from California Highway Patrol, Calaveras County Marine Safety Division and several other search and rescue groups, who are all canvassing the area to find the 44-year-old.

A large contingent of search and rescue personnel were also seen searching the north fork of the Mokelumne River on Monday, but the search had to be postponed because of the high and rapid flowing water.

The search for Johnson resumed Tuesday, and the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said it has requested additional resources from the state’s Office of Emergency Services. 

‘We always talked about having 40 years together,’ Trop told CBS News, ‘and we had a four-year timeline and to have that cut short … is horrible.’

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