Report: Two BYU-Idaho students aboard plane missing in Valley County

December 3, 2013 

Johnson Creek airstrip was covered in a light dusting of snow Wednesday morning. Searchers hope added resources will lead them to a plane that went missing in the area Sunday.

JOHNSON CREEK AIRSTRIP WEBCAM

More resources have joined the search for a small plane that went missing Sunday near Yellow Pine. Sixty people and seven total aircraft are scouring the area around Johnson Creek airstrip, hoping for any sign of the plane or its five passengers

Searchers detected a faint signal from an emergency locator beacon in an area south of the airstrip Tuesday, but they have not been able to locate the aircraft yet, said Rob Feeley with the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security. Search efforts are complicated due to weather and communication challenges faced by the searchers in the remote, mountainous terrain.

The temperature in Yellow Pine is expected to drop to 0 Wednesday night, and it could be as low as -10 in higher terrain, according to the National Weather Service. Highs Thursday will be in the teens, and snow is on the way Friday. Four to 8 inches of snow may fall in the mountains, a meteorologist said.

The added resources–including five fixed-wing planes from the Civil Air Patrol and two Idaho National Guard helicopters–prompted Lt Dan Smith with the Valley County Sheriff’s Office to ask volunteers to hold off.

“With the additional resources, rugged terrain, and difficult weather conditions, we are encouraging citizens not to attempt to volunteer to help with the search,” he said in a Wednesday morning press release. “Untrained individuals create safety concerns and detract resources from the search effort.”

The missing plane, a single-engine Beech Bonanza, was headed to Butte, Mont., from Baker City, Ore. The pilot reported engine trouble and asked controllers in Salt Lake City for coordinates to the Johnson Creek Airstrip, a backcountry landing strip near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Salt Lake Tower called the Valley County Sheriff’s Office Sunday afternoon after losing contact with the plane by radio and radar, said Lt. Dan Smith with the Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

Five people reported aboard the missing aircraft include its owner and pilot, Dale Smith, along with son Daniel Smith and his wife Sheree Smith. Daughter Amber Smith and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, were also reportedly aboard.

Norton is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho, said Norton's uncle, Alan Dayton of Salt Lake City. Norton grew up in Salt Lake City and is a senior accounting major. Norton was traveling with Amber Smith and her family following Thanksgiving vacation, Dayton said.

Norton, Smith and her family traveled from San Jose, Calif., to Baker City and were continuing to Butte to drop off Smith's brother and sister-in-law, Dayton said. Smith's father then planned to take his daughter and Norton back to Rexburg.

The couple plans to get married Jan. 4; Norton is "at the top of his class" and has several job offers waiting for him, Dayton said.

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