Search for missing plane in central Idaho

Associated Press Updated: December 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm • Published: December 2, 2013 0

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A search in the central Idaho backcountry for five people in a small plane that disappeared Sunday has been complicated by heavy snow and low visibility.

The state Transportation Department said the search was halted Monday evening but would resume at daybreak Tuesday, the Idaho Statesman reported.

About two dozen search and rescue personnel combed a mountain ridge Monday near the tiny town of Yellow Pine for a single-engine Beech Bonanza that lost radio and radar contact with controllers Sunday afternoon, said Lt. Dan Smith of the Valley County Sheriff Department.

The plane carrying five family members was flying from Baker City, Ore., to Butte, Mont. The pilot reported engine trouble and asked controllers in Salt Lake City for coordinates to the Johnson Creek Airstrip, a grass-covered backcountry landing strip near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Smith said heavy snow that fell all day Monday and low clouds twice grounded planes and Idaho Army Air National Guard helicopters brought in to help search by air. Crews began focusing on the ridge top just east of the landing strip based on cellphone signals, Smith said.

"We have no idea what the status of things is right now," he said. "They could have landed safely somewhere and just can't communicate."

Signals from the plane's built-in emergency locator transmitter, designed to go off in crashes, have not yet been detected, he said.

Authorities have not identified the pilot or the others on board.

The plane's registered owner is Dale Smith, of San Jose, Calif., according to Federal Aviation Administration records. Smith obtained his pilot's license in 2005 and has a second-class medical certification, allowing him to operate commercial aircraft.

A telephone message left by the Associated Press on Monday at Smith's home was not immediately returned.

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