Snowy weather Tuesday continued to plague the search for a small airplane that went down in the backcountry of central Idaho with five people aboard.
Rescue efforts were halted as night fell about 5 p.m. Tuesday and would resume again Wednesday, authorities said. The plane, en route from Baker City, Ore., to Butte, Mont., developed engine trouble Sunday afternoon. The pilot called air traffic controllers at Salt Lake City International Airport seeking coordinates to make an emergency landing at the Johnson Creek air strip near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar.
Crews detected a faint signal from an emergency locator transmitter for the six-seat, early 1980s model BE-36 Beech Bonanza, according to a statement by the Valley County Sheriff’s Office, but they could not find the source because the signal was too weak.
Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Reed Hollinshead said two Idaho Air National Guard helicopters were joined by Civil Air Patrol and fixed-wing Idaho state planes trying to catch glimpses of the ground within a 5-mile radius of Johnson Creek, about 50 miles northeast of Cascade, Idaho. Searchers were focused on ridges near the town of Yellow Pine.
Heavy snow had grounded aircraft late Monday, and inclement weather continued through Tuesday, making visibility unpredictable. As daytime temperatures rose only into the mid-20s, snowfall was not expected to abate until Wednesday morning.
Missing with the aircraft are: the pilot, Dale Smith; along with son Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith with her fiancé, Jonathon Norton.
Norton’s uncle, Alan Dayton, told The Salt Lake Tribune that Norton grew up in Salt Lake City and was a senior at BYU-Idaho, along with Amber Smith. Dayton, who is from Salt Lake City, said Norton was traveling with Amber Smith’s family after Thanksgiving vacation. The couple plan to marry Jan. 4.
Dayton said the family remained hopeful the plane was able to make an emergency landing, but the sub-freezing temperatures and wintry weather buffeting central Idaho on Tuesday was cause for growing concern.
“We’ve had no new updates so far to encourage us,” he said Tuesday. “The problem we’re having is the bad weather. If they survived the landing or crash, they’ve had a couple nights of harsh, cold weather already.”
Dayton said the family was told that steep canyon walls were interfering with transmitter signals from the plane, hampering the search.
He said relatives of the missing were flying into Boise, Idaho, where he intended to meet them and then drive out to the search area.