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Witness to guide Idaho search for plane

Published December 8, 2013 6:28 pm

Man who was in the backcountry says he heard the plane drop.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An "ear witness" is leading the ongoing search for a downed plane and its five occupants in the frozen mountains of central Idaho.

The missing plane, out of San Jose, Calif., was en route to Montana when it went down Sunday after pilot Dale Smith reported engine trouble. Also aboard were Dale Smith's son Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith and her fiancé, Jonathon Norton, who grew up in Salt Lake City.

Weekend storms hampered the search, but new information will help guide a renewed effort Sunday morning.

"We now have an ear witness who has come out of the backcountry who heard the plane bank hard and drop," Alan Dayton, Norton's uncle, wrote in an email. "He has indicated an area on the map where we should search."

The witness added that the conditions that day were "the worst possible for flying: snowy, low visibility and clouds," according to the email. "From the information I have gathered, it appears that the pilot had ice problems, got mechanical problems."

The search begins again at 6 a.m. While Idaho officials continue their search, Dayton and two of his brothers also plan to drive to the area by SUV, snow machines and on snowshoes. They will have a GPS and plan on spending the night in an abandoned lodge.

The family also have "a billionaire out of Sun Valley" who has donated his helicopter to aid the search on Sunday, the email adds.

The region, already rugged, remote and hard to access, has endured below-zero overnight temperatures all week. Families of the missing and rescue personnel alike acknowledge that given the passage of time without a trace of the plane or its passengers, and the harsh conditions on the ground, that the mission has likely become one of recovery.

Up to 100 searchers from multiple county, state and military agencies, have been combing the area on tracked snowcats and snowmobiles, and above the ground in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda