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Weather slows search for missing plane

Weather conditions slowed the search for a plane missing in central Idaho on Thursday.

Poor visibility led to searchers not patrolling the skies, leaving a limited number of searchers on the ground. Those on the ground would be working until the weather no longer permits them to do so, according to a news release from Valley County.

The plane had been flying from Baker City, Ore., to Butte, Mont., on Sunday when it lost contact with air traffic controllers near the tiny mountain town of Yellow Pine. Missing are BYU-Idaho students Amber Smith of San Jose, Calif., and her fiancee, Jonathan Norton of Sun Prairie, Wis. Smith’s father, Dale Smith, was the pilot. Also aboard were Dale Smith’s son, Daniel Smith, and daughter-in-law, Sheree Smith.

The Federal Aviation Administration lifted the temporary flight restriction over the search area. The TFR had limited air travel over the search zone to authorized aircraft, eliminating conflicts between searchers and other aircraft.

Now, the Valley County Sheriff’s Office is asking any pilot flying in the area to keep an eye out for any signs of the missing single-engine Beech Bonanza.

Searchers said they have done all they can, hiking ridges and valleys around Johnson Creek Airstrip. In addition, government and private helicopters and airplanes have flown over the area.

The plane may be outside the search zone, “but the vast and remote nature of the backcountry area limits the ability to extend the search any further at this time,” the sheriff’s office said.

“Forecasts call for snowfall throughout the weekend and into next week,” said Incident Commander Lt. Dan Smith. “Even though we want to locate this plane, the one thing we cannot do is put people in harm’s way.”

On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said it was not seeking volunteers to help in the search.

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