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((Courtesy photo) ) Jonathon Norton and Amber Smith were on board the plane that went missing Dec. 1 in Idaho. Searchers located the plane's wreckage Friday and said it appears all four passengers and the pilot died on impact.
Brother describes finding sibling’s plane wreckage
First Published Jan 12 2014 03:10 pm • Last Updated Jan 12 2014 03:09 pm

BOISE, Idaho • When Dellon Smith spotted the wreckage of his older brother’s airplane on the side of a central Idaho mountain, he started running.

"It’s hard to sprint in snowshoes, but we did," Smith said Saturday, a day after finding the snow-covered aircraft on a steep slope at about 7,500 feet, bringing an end to a six-week search. "I just wanted to run as fast as I could, and I knew it was a very sacred place to me."

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After covering the 200 feet to the aircraft, he asked the rest of the 12-member search team to give him a few minutes alone at the site where a light snow was falling.

"You’re just overwhelmed," he said. "You’re just so happy to have found it, yet you’re so sad because you found it. I just enjoyed the peace of being there, and finally getting answers for our whole family."

Bad weather Saturday morning turned back a recovery team attempting to reach the wreckage of the small aircraft that went down in early December, killing 51-year-old pilot Dale Smith, a Silicon Valley executive, and four of his family members.

There were no plans to make another attempt Sunday, but a meeting will be held Monday to consider options for reaching the remote crash site and removing the five bodies, Valley County Sheriff Patti Bolen said.

She said snowmobiles will be needed to reach the area, and various routes in the rugged terrain are being considered. She didn’t rule out the use of a helicopter.

The aircraft had been carrying Dale Smith, a software executive from San Jose, Calif.; his son, Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith with her fiance, Jonathan Norton, officials said.

The plane was flying from eastern Oregon, where the family had been spending the Thanksgiving holiday, to Montana, where Daniel and Sheree Smith live, when it disappeared Dec. 1 in the mountains 150 miles northeast of Boise.

Dellon Smith, 38, a cargo pilot based in Anchorage, Alaska, and one of three brothers, found the crash site at about 2 p.m. Friday. A large, tracked vehicle carried the search team into the backcountry, where they spread out. He said he tried to take in the scene to determine how the crash might have happened, adding it appeared to have been a violent impact.


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"It was very sudden," he said. "Since they were in the clouds, they probably didn’t know what hit them. Probably a couple seconds and it was over. There was no pain and suffering for our family members, and for that we’re very grateful."

Officials suspended the official search for the aircraft in mid-December, but an intensive hunt by family, friends and a large online community scouring satellite and other photos helped locate the badly damaged aircraft Friday. At one point, hundreds of online volunteers were pitching in.

"Every single one of them made a difference," Dellon Smith said.

On Friday, he spoke with Dale Smith’s wife, Janis, and told her he found the wreckage.

"It’s a real sense of closure to know exactly what happened and to know that they didn’t suffer at all," she told The Associated Press late Friday.

Dellon Smith said the search team dug away some of the snow to make sure it was his brother’s aircraft, and he recognized the color from having flown in it.

He said the team looked for bodies but determined that a professional crew would need to clear the snow to find them.

The team focused on the site after a pilot thought he spotted reflecting metal and the online searchers began studying landscape photos of that area, Janis Smith said.

Dale Smith had reported engine trouble and radioed for coordinates to possible landing sites, including a grass-covered backcountry landing strip. Shortly after, controllers lost radio and radar contact.

Janis Smith said it appeared the plane crashed moments after the last communication. She said the plane had caught fire. Dellon Smith said he thinks his brother was trying to make it to an airport in McCall.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Smith, an executive and co-founder of San Jose-based SerialTek, obtained his pilot’s license in 2005.

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