(BOISE, Idaho, AP) — The wreckage of a small plane that crashed in Idaho more than a month ago, killing a Silicon Valley executive and the four others aboard, has been located following a persistent online and ground search that included the pilot’s brother, officials and family members said.
Debris from the single-engine plane was located in the central Idaho mountains Saturday, but Valley County Sheriff’s Lt. Dan Smith said an incoming storm may delay recovery efforts.
The aircraft had been carrying the 51-year-old pilot, 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.
Dale Smith’s wife, Janis, said her husband’s brother, Dellon Smith of Anchorage, Alaska, was one of the private searchers who located the wreckage. Dellon Smith told her the plane had broken apart and was buried in snow. He told her it was obvious from the crash site that those aboard died quickly, she said.
“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.
Authorities had suspended the official search for the aircraft in mid-December, but volunteers, including friends and family, continued with a private search that used online analysis of satellite and other images of the terrain.
In this case, a pilot thought he spotted reflecting metal and the online searchers began studying landscape photos of that area, Janis Smith said. That led to a ground search.
“Dellon and his crew spent the entire day, from 3 a.m. onward trying to find the right location,” she wrote on the plane search Facebook page. “The snow was very deep and the going was very slow. Less than two hours before they needed to wrap up the search for the foreseeable future,” they found the wreckage.
Dale Smith reported engine trouble and sought information about a backcountry landing strip where he hoped to put the plane down safely.
Janis Smith said it appears the plane crashed moments after the last communication. She said the plane had caught fire.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Smith, an executive and co-founder of San Jose-based SerialTek, obtained his pilot’s license in 2005.
Rand Kriech, who co-founded SerialTek with Smith in 2007, said he got a call Friday evening, telling him the wreckage had been found.
The private search initially involved hundreds of online volunteers analyzing satellite images of the terrain, looking for clues like damaged trees that might indicate a crash site, and posting that information back to the search website, Kriech said in a telephone interview.
His daughter, Kayla Kriech of San Ramon, Calif., said she was one of the administrators of the search website.
Satellite images were often unclear and cloud cover was a problem, so the search evolved, she said.
Volunteer pilots strapped tiny GoPro cameras to their aircraft, flew assigned grid patterns, and then grabbed screen shots every eight seconds or so from the video, Kayla Kriech said.
Information from those images was then analyzed.
One of those online volunteers was Sylvia Leach, who said she was a stay-at-home mom from the Aspen, Colo., area and joined the online effort after hearing about the missing family from a blog.
Leach said she spent several hours daily looking for the crash site.
“It wasn’t an obsession, but I just knew that if it were my family, I’d want somebody to do the same for me,” she told the AP.
Leach expressed sadness that there were no survivors.
“I held out hope, right until the end,” she said.