Missing Idaho plane found; 5 dead

Tuesday , March 04, 2014 - 11:25 AM

Tim Gurrister, Standard-Examiner Staff, The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — The wreckage of a small plane carrying five people, including a Silicon Valley executive, was found Friday after the aircraft vanished Dec. 1 in the central Idaho mountains, the Valley County sheriff’s office and the pilot’s wife said. There were no survivors.

An incoming storm may delay recovery efforts, sheriff’s Lt. Dan Smith said.

The single-engine plane carried the 51-year-old pilot, Dale Smith, a software executive from San Jose, Calif.; his son, Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith with her fiance, Jonathan Norton. Norton was the grandson of former Weber County treasurer Nila Dayton.

The plane was flying from eastern Oregon, where the family had been spending the Thanksgiving holiday, to Montana, where Daniel and Sheree Smith live, when it disappeared in the mountains 150 miles northeast of Boise.

Ralph Dayton of Ogden, husband of Nila Dayton, Jonathan Norton’s grandparents, told the Standard-Examiner on Saturday they had been advised weather conditions could prevent retrieval of the bodies from the wreckage for as long as a week.

The crash site is in the midst of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area.

“The saddest part is they had wedding plans,” he said of Jonathan and fiance Amber Smith. A date had been set for Jan. 4.

The two were one semester away from graduation from BYU-Idaho in Rexburg with accounting degrees, he said, and had already been offered jobs with the same CPA firm.

“Our daughter, Lynette, Jonathan’s mother, was taken up in a plane to fly over the Frank Church Wilderness Area early on in the search,” Dayton said. “She kind of realized then they wouldn’t be alive if they were found, because the area is so vast and mountainous.”

Jonathan, 24, grew up in Salt Lake for the most part, Dayton said, finishing up high school in Wisconsin where his parents live now.

Dale Smith’s wife, Janis, said her husband’s brother, Dellon Smith, was one of the private searchers who located 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 told The Associated Press.

Authorities had suspended the official search for the aircraft in mid-December, but volunteers, including friends and family, continued with a private search that used online analysis of satellite and other images of the terrain.

In this case, 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.

“Dellon and his crew spent the entire day, from 3 a.m. onward, trying to find the right location,” she wrote on the plane search Facebook page. “The snow was very deep and the going was very slow. Less than two hours before they needed to wrap up the search for the foreseeable future,” they found the wreckage.

Dale Smith reported engine trouble and sought information about a backcountry landing strip where he hoped to put the plane down safely.

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

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Smith, an executive and co-founder of San Jose-based SerialTek, obtained his pilot’s license in 2005.

Rand Kriech, who co-founded SerialTek with Smith in 2007, said he got a call Friday evening, telling him the wreckage had been found.

The private search initially involved hundreds of online volunteers analyzing satellite images of the terrain, looking for clues like damaged trees that might indicate a crash site, and posting that information back to the search website, Kriech said in a telephone interview.

His daughter, Kayla Kriech of San Ramon, Calif., said she was one of the administrators of the search website.

Satellite images were often unclear and cloud cover was a problem, so the search evolved, she said.

Volunteer pilots strapped tiny GoPro cameras to their aircraft, flew assigned grid patterns, and then grabbed screen shots every eight seconds or so from the video, Kayla Kriech said.

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