Search ranks swell in effort to find missing plane

A faint emergency locator signal may have been misleading, authorities say.

December 4, 2013 

Sixty people and seven aircraft scoured the area around Johnson Creek airstrip Wednesday, hoping for any sign of a missing plane or its five passengers.

Five planes from the Civil Air Patrol and two helicopters from the Idaho National Guard were being used to systematically grid the search area, according to Rob Feeley with the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security. CAP aircraft also used infrared radar to search the ground for signs of a downed aircraft.

The added resources prompted Lt. Dan Smith with the Valley County Sheriff’s Office to ask additional 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 news release. “Untrained individuals create safety concerns and detract resources from the search effort.”

Searchers detected a faint signal from an emergency locator beacon in an area south of the airstrip Tuesday. But Wednesday, other aircraft were not able to verify the signal — which may have been misleading due to the terrain and "the unreliable nature of the signal," Feeley wrote.

The temperature in Yellow Pine was 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 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 on Sunday afternoon after losing contact with the plane by radio and radar.

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 — both BYU-Idaho students — were also reportedly aboard.

Smith, an executive and co-founder of San Jose, Calif.-based SerialTek, obtained his pilot's license in 2005 and had a second-class medical certification, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

"He's flown all over, taking doctors and dentists down to Mexico to help the underprivileged," Rand Kriech, who co-founded a data storage company with Smith in 2007, told the Associated Press. "He's a very giving man ... from a very giving family."

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