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July 30, 2014

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Missing plane found in Idaho; 5 aboard dead

BOISE, Idaho — The wreckage of a small plane carrying five people, including a Silicon Valley executive, was found Friday after vanishing in the central Idaho mountains on Dec. 1, the Valley County sheriff's office said. There were no survivors.

Sheriff's Lt. Dan Smith said Friday that an incoming storm may delay recovery efforts.

The single-engine plane was occupied by 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, Jonathon Norton.

The plane was flying from eastern Oregon, where the family had been spending the Thanksgiving holiday, to Montana, where Daniel and Sheree Smith live, on Dec. 1 when it disappeared in the mountains 150 miles northeast of Boise.

Dale Smith reported engine trouble and sought information about a backcountry landing strip where he hoped to put the plane down safely.

Authorities had suspended the official search for the aircraft in mid-December, but volunteers, including friends and family, continued with a private search.

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 a 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 analyzed and "that's how the plane was found," she said.

Dale Smith's brother, Dellon Smith, had organized a physical search this week that was scheduled to end Friday, she added.

"They were just getting ready to close up today, checking one last site — and sure enough," her father said.

"It's simply amazing that so many people were volunteering so much of their time to bring the family peace," he said. "It's just really hard to get closure if you don't have any information."

A phone message left late Friday for Dale Smith's wife, Janis, was not immediately returned.

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