Missing plane found, but no survivors

Family and volunteers succeed in their last chance to search before spring.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJanuary 11, 2014 

Dale and Janis Smith, center, surrounded by their family in 2012: In the back row are, from left, son Daniel Smith, Daniel’s wife Sheree, son-in-law Michael Christensen and daughter Crystal Christensen. Bottom row: daughter Amber Smith, son Nathan and son Craig Smith. Dale, Amber, Daniel and Sheree were on the plane that disappeared Dec. 1. The fifth passenger was Amber’s fiance, Jonathan North.

PROVIDED BY SMITH FAMILY

None of the five people aboard the plane survived the crash in the Central Idaho mountains, according to the Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

The single-engine Beech Bonanza was piloted by Dale Smith, a San Jose software executive. Others aboard the plane were Smith’s daughter Amber and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, both students at BYU-Idaho; and Smith’s son Daniel and wife, Sheree, of Butte, Mont.

In a Friday post on a Facebook page dedicated to the search, Dale Smith’s wife Janis thanked searchers and wrote that the plane was found “less than two hours before they needed to wrap up the search for the foreseeable future.”

Dale Smith’s brother Dellon, 38, a commercial pilot from Anchorage, Alaska, was among those who found the plane, Janis Smith wrote.

“I am so grateful that Dellon was the one who found his brother. The plane is in pieces and buried in snow. They have not yet found all the parts. However, we do know my family members on the plane died quickly and painlessly. They did not suffer.”

The plane disappeared east of McCall on Dec. 1. The official search for it was called off on Dec. 12 amid difficult weather conditions. The volunteer search group, including Dellon Smith, left Wednesday on a four-day trip, taking a snowcat up an old Jeep trail to a ridge in an area about a mile east of Johnson Creek Airport.

The recovery effort may be delayed due to a severe storm coming in, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Searchers were both heartened that their efforts paid off and saddened that no one on the plane was found alive.

“I was holding out hope. I have heard of the unimaginable,” said Sylvia Leach, a Colorado mom who scanned images from satellite and video for clues for the plane. “I live in these mountains also and fly, so I also know that side of it. But with this family, their spirit, amazing hearts, I thought that if there were to be a miracle it would be for them.”

Blake Adams, a friend of the Smith family in San Jose, said he was notified by email just after 4 p.m. MT that the plane had been found.

Adams, 33, an AT&T senior network planning engineer, had been heavily involved in the online effort to find clues to the missing plane. He said more than 14,000 people had looked at millions of satellite images on Tomnod.com, a website for crowdsourcing satellite images.

About 2,300 people were involved in discussing images on Facebook.

“I am glad they found the plane so they can begin to find out what happened,” Adams said. “Maybe they’ll get some comfort from that.”

Adams said Dale Smith’s family were members of the Blossom Valley Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“They’ve been a longtime member of the ward,” he said. “We’ve just enveloped the family to help take care of them.”

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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