A Pocatello family is asking for prayers and volunteers to help locate five people who went missing on Sunday after the single-engine plane they were flying in experienced engine trouble over the mountains of central Idaho.
Pocatello residents Matt and Kim Dayton said their 24-year-old nephew, Jonathan Norton, was aboard the Beech Bonanza, along with his fiancee, Amber Smith, and her family members: father and pilot, Dale Smith, brother, Daniel Smith, and sister-in-law, Sheree Smith. Kim said the family members had been together for Thanksgiving and were flying back to their respective homes when the engine trouble was reported.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Dayton’s are asking the LDS community to help with the search if they can, along with anyone else who can volunteer, particularly those who are familiar with the area and are experienced climbers.
“Anyone who has relatives in the ... area who can help out, we would appreciate it,” Matt said. “If not, we’ll take their prayers.”
The search for the plane is focused on a remote mountain area near the tiny town of Yellow Pine, about 150 miles northeast of Boise and just beyond the borders of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
On Tuesday, authorities dispatched two National Guard helicopters and a pair of small planes to help the more than 20 searchers combing the area on foot. Heavy snow, strong winds and low visibility grounded the aircraft during Monday’s search.
The plane left Baker City, Ore., on Sunday en route to Butte, Mont., and was flying over the mountains when Dale reported engine trouble and requested coordinates for a backcountry airstrip near Yellow Pine.
Dale, an executive and co-founder of San Jose-based SerialTek, is described as an experienced pilot. He obtained his pilot’s license in 2005 and had a second-class medical certification, allowing him to operate commercial aircraft, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
“He’s flown all over Canada, the U.S. and Mexico,” said Rand Kriech, who co-founded SerialTek with Smith in 2007. “He’s flown all over, taking doctors and dentists down to Mexico to help the underprivileged. He’s a very giving man ... from a very giving family.”
The search began Monday and centered on a mountain ridge near the remote landing strip. Authorities targeted the location after pinging cellphones of Smith and others on board the plane.
The focus shifted slightly Tuesday after authorities detected a faint signal from the plane’s built-in emergency locator transmitter (ELT), said Rob Feeley, spokesman for the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security.
Still, searchers hadn’t found the plane by Tuesday evening, when they had to call off the search for the day due to safety concerns.
“We got excited, at first, when we heard that they had found the ELT (signal),” Matt said, but added that something appears to be interfering with the signal, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact location.
“We’re really disappointed. We were hoping that they would be found today.”
Matt traveled to the area with his father, Ralph Dayton, on Tuesday, so they could keep their family updated on the search. Matt said the situation has hit close to home for him, not only because his nephew was on the plane, but also because he’s a career pilot.
“This is a terrifying situation to be in,” Matt said, adding that he thinks the pilot did everything right based on the information he’s received.
“From what I know of the facts, he did a really good job. When he started having engine problems, he communicated with air traffic control and got a vector to the local airstrip.”
Still, he’s worried about his nephew and the others who were on board the plane.
“There are freezing temperatures here,” he said, adding that the longer the search takes, the more likely it will become a recovery rather than a rescue mission.
Kim said her nephew and his fiancee recently sent out invitations to their wedding, set for Jan. 4. They are both accounting majors at BYU-Idaho and have talked about opening their own firm.
“(Jonathan) is a very responsible, smart man, and he has a lot of potential,” she said, adding that he served a mission for his church and was a Boy Scout.
She hopes his skills may be helping him now. Kriech also hoped that searches would be able to locate the plane and those who were on board on Tuesday.
“We’re all just waiting and hoping here,” Kriech said.
Officials said three more airplanes from the Idaho Civil Air Patrol were expected to assist in the search Wednesday.