By Chris Collins
Steve Smith of Baker City spoke with pride today about his youngest son, Dellon, an Alaskan bush pilot, who searched doggedly until he found his older brother Dale's crashed plane in the mountains of central Idaho.
The Beechcraft Bonanza single-engine plane that went missing Dec. 1 after leaving the Baker City airport en route to Butte, Mont., was found Friday afternoon.
Steve Smith said he has been overwhelmed by the number of people who participated in the search even after the official effort was called off on in mid-December after harsh winter weather settled in.
Remembering those early days of the search, Steve Smith recalled how his son, Dellon, 39, was one of the first to arrive on the scene near the Johnson Creek airstrip south of Yellow Pine, Idaho.
"He hopped on a plane Sunday and he was there Monday," Steve Smith said. "I was proud of him for the way he stuck to it. He didn't want to quit looking for his brother and his family."
Dale Smith, 51, a software executive from San Jose, Calif., the oldest of Steve Smith's three sons, was the pilot.
The plane carried Dale's children, Daniel and Amber. Also on board were Daniel's wife, Sheree, and Amber's fiancandeacute;, Jonathan Norton.
Steve Smith said he received a call from his ex-wife, Fran Phillips, Friday afternoon telling him and his wife, Terri, that the plane had been found.
The Smiths live on Mill Creek Lane about 10 miles west of Baker City. Dale Smith and his family, which also includes his wife, Janis, and his two youngest sons, Craig and Nathan, had flown to Baker City in two separate trips for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Their daughter, Crystal, and her husband, Michael Christensen, had driven to Baker City to join the group from their home in Provo, Utah.
The plane left Baker City about 11:30 a.m. Dec. 1 for the first leg of the return trip to take the four young people back to Montana. Dale Smith then planned to return to Baker City to pick up his wife and two sons to fly back to their home in San Jose, Calif.
Steve Smith said about 2,600 people participated in the search as it expanded to include photos taken by pilots flying over the area and Internet communication to examine the photos in an attempt to find anything out of place that might indicate a plane had crashed.
"The scope of what happened is unbelievable," he said, noting that helicopter pilots alone had spent 82 hours of their own time and their own money helping look for his son and his family members.
"Every day for nearly 40 days there were pilots out there - weather permitting - looking for our family's plane," he said.
In the interim, Smith said the family gathered in Oakland, Calif., on Jan. 4 for a ceremony at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That was the date Amber Smith and Jonathan Norton had planned to be married.
"It was a tender, special moment for those two kids," Steve Smith said.
Finding the plane has brought some comfort to the family.
"That part is over," he said. "We know where they are - with our Heavenly Father.
"There has never been a doubt in our minds about that because of the way they lived their lives. Each and every one was special in that regard."