Weather stops Idaho plane recovery

Wreckage, five bodies have lain under snow in a remote mountain area since early December



BOISE, Idaho — Bad weather Saturday morning turned back a recovery team attempting to reach the wreckage of a small airplane that went down in the central Idaho mountains in early December, killing a Silicon Valley executive and four of his family members.

There were no plans for another attempt today, but a meeting will be held Monday to consider options for reaching the remote crash site and removing the five bodies, Valley County Sheriff Patti Bolen said.

“We’re confident they’re all right there,” she said, but declined to comment if positive identifications had been made at the site. She also declined to release a more precise location of the crash.

Bolen said the site had about 3 feet of snow Saturday and was likely receiving more. She said snowmobiles will be needed to reach the area, and routes through the rugged terrain are being considered. She didn’t rule out the use of a helicopter.The aircraft held pilot Dale Smith, 51 a software executive from San Jose, Calif.; son Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith with her fiancé, Jonathan Norton, officials said.

The plane was flying from eastern Oregon, where the family spent Thanksgiving, to Montana, where Daniel and Sheree Smith lived, when it disappeared Dec. 1 in mountains 150 miles northeast of Boise.

Officials suspended the official search for the aircraft in mid-December, but an intensive hunt by family and friends located the badly damaged aircraft Friday.

“We’re very pleased that it has been located,” Bolen said. “We were thinking that with the weather, we probably wouldn’t find it until spring. There was a lot of effort put in by the family and friends who decided that they were going to go out there and find it, or at least make a good attempt.”

Dale Smith’s widow, Janis, said her husband’s brother, Dellon Smith of Anchorage, Alaska, was one of the searchers who found the wreckage. Dellon Smith told her the plane had broken apart and was buried in snow. He told her it was obvious from the crash site that those aboard died quickly, she said.

“It’s a real sense of closure to know exactly what happened and to know that they didn’t suffer at all,” she said late Friday.

The private search for the plane used online analysis of satellite images and other images of the terrain. At one point, hundreds of online volunteers were pitching in.

A pilot thought he spotted reflecting metal and the online searchers began studying landscape photos of that area, Janis Smith said. That led to a ground search.

Dale Smith reported engine trouble and asked controllers in Salt Lake City for coordinates to a grass-covered backcountry landing strip. Shortly after, controllers lost radio and radar contact.

Janis Smith said it appears the plane crashed moments after the last communication. She said the plane had caught fire.