Formal search suspended for missing aircraft

Air and ground search teams Thursday jointly suspended their efforts to locate a missing airplane in the rugged mountains of central Idaho. The decision by the ITD's Division of Aeronautics, the unit in charge of the search, was supported by the U.S. Department of the Air Force.

Their search began Dec. 1 after a Beech Bonanza with five people on board disappeared from radar near the Johnson Creek Airstrip, about 50 miles northeast of Cascade. Search teams were hampered by poor visibility, snowfall and sub-zero temperature during the first week.

“We reluctantly suspended the search because of worsening conditions and concern for the safety of our search teams,” explained Mike Pape, administrator of the Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Aeronautics.

“We are prepared to resume the search if there is specific, credible information about the plane’s location. Our decision to suspend the formal search was not easy to make and came only after all of our other options had diminished. Our hearts go out to family members and friends as they await word about their love ones.”

The search included helicopters from the Idaho Army National Guard, Customs and Border Protection, a private helicopter, several Civil Air Patrol planes and aircraft from the ITD’s Division of Aeronautics.

Ground search teams included Valley County Sheriff’s Office, Valley County Search and Rescue, Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue, Idaho Fish and Game, U.S. Forest Service and volunteers. They used tracked vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, and hiked the ridges and valleys near the Johnson Creek Airstrip.

The missing aircraft, an early 1980s-model, six-seat BE-36 Beech Bonanza, left the Baker City, Ore., airport bound for Butte, Mont., before noon on Sunday, Dec. 1. Its last-known position was on the western edge of the rugged Sawtooth Mountains a few hours later.

Aboard the missing airplane were the pilot, Dale Smith; along with son Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith with her fiancé, Jonathon Norton, who grew up in Salt Lake City.

Published 12-13-13