Missing plane that departed Baker City was carrying California family

By Baker City Herald December 03, 2013 08:39 am

By Jayson Jacoby

jjacoby @bakercityherald.com

A San Jose, Calif., man who was piloting his single-engine aircraft is missing, along with his son and daughter-in-law, and his daughter and her fiancé, after reporting engine trouble Sunday afternoon while flying from Baker City to Butte, Mont.

The pilot, Dale Smith, 51, had spent Thanksgiving with his father and stepmother, Steve and Terri Smith, who live near Baker City, said Elizabeth Smithson of Baker City, a family friend.

Dale Smith’s passengers were his son, Daniel; Daniel’s wife, Sheree; Dale Smith’s daughter, Amber Smith; and Amber’s fiancé, Jonathan Norton.

During the flight Dale Smith called air traffic control near Valley County, Idaho, reporting engine problems in his Beech Bonanza. The plane has not been found.

Search crews are focusing on an area near the remote Johnson Creek Airstrip, about 50 miles northeast of Cascade, Idaho, where Smith’s plane lost radar and cell tower contact just after 1 p.m. MST, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Valley County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Department.

The aerial search was suspended Monday because of heavy snow, strong winds and low visibility.

The search resumed Tuesday with about 40 people combing the area, including crews aboard two National Guard helicopters and a pair of small planes, according to The Associated Press.

Smithson, the family friend, said Terri Smith told her search crews Tuesday afternoon they were within one to 1 miles of the signal from an emergency beacon that Dale Smith apparently was able to activate.

The search continued this morning with more than 60 people involved, as well as five fixed-wing planes from the Civil Air Patrol and two helicopters from the Idaho National Guard.

 Terri Smith had been tracking the progress of the plane Sunday by way of an Internet service called FlightAware, Smithson said.

The plane suddenly disappeared from the computer screen as Terri Smith watched.

Dale Smith apparently told an air traffic controller in Salt Lake City that his plane was dropping at a rate of 1,000 feet to 1,200 feet per minute. 

Smithson said Dale Smith, after reporting engine trouble, initially planned to try for an emergency landing at Salmon, Idaho, but the Johnson Creek Airstrip was closer.

Smithson, whose husband, Dan, is also a private pilot, said they have flown over the Johnson Creek Airstrip. She said it’s an unpaved landing strip surrounded by high mountains.

Johnson Creek Airstrip is about 150 miles northeast of Boise, near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Dale Smith is the CEO of SerialTek, a software company. 

He was flying to Butte to drop off his son and daughter-in-law, who live in Glasgow, Mont.

Dale Smith was then planning to fly south to Rexburg, Idaho, where his daughter and her fiancé live and attend Brigham Young University-Idaho, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Rand Kriech, who co-founded SerialTek with Smith in 2007, told AP that Smith had extensive flying experience. He earned his pilot license in 2005.

“He’s flown all over Canada, the U.S. and Mexico,” Kriech said. “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.”