SAN JOSE -- Hope turned to discouragement Tuesday as relatives and friends of a San Jose pilot whose plane went missing Sunday in the central Idaho backcountry waited for news about him and the family members aboard the aircraft.
After encouraging news earlier in the day that a faint signal was heard near where the plane went missing, darkness led officials to call off the search for the day.
"It's hard to think straight," said David Christensen, whose daughter-in-law is pilot Dale Smith's oldest daughter, Crystal.
Christensen described the Smiths as a tight-knit family, many of whom gathered Tuesday near where the plane lost contact, including Smith's wife and Michael and Crystal Christensen.
"We love our daughter-in-law so much, and we love their family," he said of the Smiths, whom he called "an amazing family" that is "extremely active."
"We are proud to be related to them," he said. "They're good people, a good influence. They do lots of things together. They play together, work together."
Officials have been looking for Smith's Beech Bonanza plane since he reported engine trouble on Sunday on a flight from Baker City, Ore., to Butte, Mont.. He asked controllers in Salt Lake City for coordinates to the Johnson Creek Airport, a grass-covered backcountry landing strip near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
But then the plane lost radar and cell tower contact.
The Smiths, Christensen said, were in Oregon for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend before Sunday's flight.
Smith lives in South San Jose and is president of a Silicon Valley company. Authorities confirmed on Tuesday that the passengers on the plane were his son Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith, as well as daughter Amber Smith and her fiance Jonathan Norton.
On Monday, teams tried repeatedly to fly a helicopter over the last known contact area but had to turn back because of poor weather, according to Sgt. Rorie Snapp of the sheriff's office.
Weather was better on Tuesday but the search had to be called off at nightfall.
"Sundown was at 5 p.m. Mountain time, and the (search) planes had to be back at the base by then," said Rob Feeley of Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security. "We will begin searching at daylight tomorrow, with the same resources that we had today -- air and land assets from multiple agencies."
An aircraft searching the area picked up a weak emergency locator transmitter about a mile south of the Johnson Creek airstrip, Feeley said.
He said while the signals didn't lead to an exact location of the plane, they allowed officials to narrow the search to an area south of the airstrip where the plane was headed, near Yellow Pine, Idaho, which he called "highly inaccessible, rugged terrain."
Officials hope that weather conditions will be conducive to further air and land searches in coming days.
Christensen, who is a San Jose native but now lives in Draper, Utah, said that as time goes on, concerns grow.
"He's been lost for over 48 hours," he said. "You've got bad weather out there. For sure that's going to cause discouragement."
Smith is president of San Jose data storage company Serialtek. Rand Kriech, who cofounded the company, said colleagues are "very concerned" and they are "all waiting to hear news."
He said Smith bought the airplane in 2005 and has been flying ever since. Kriech said he has flown with Smith on occasion.
"He's a very safe pilot," Kriech said. "Very cautious."
Smith obtained his pilot's license in 2005 and has a second-class medical certification, allowing him to operate commercial aircraft.
Jonathan Norton's uncle Alan Dayton told the Salt Lake Tribune that his nephew traveled from San Jose to Baker City, Ore., with the Smith family and they were going to Butte, Mont., to drop of Amber Smith's brother and sister-in-law when the plane went missing.
The couple are planning a Jan. 4 wedding, Dayton said.
"The family is extremely worried," Dayton said. "There's a feeling of helplessness."
Media trucks descended on the Smiths' South San Jose home Tuesday morning, but it appeared that no one was home, including two children who live with Dale Smith and his wife.
David Castillo, a neighbor who has lived two doors down since the Smiths moved in about 12 years ago, described the family as friendly and invested in their community.
"They're very peaceful folks, good neighbors," said Castillo, who has lived there for 25 years. "He always got involved when he could with neighborhood activities: block parties, neighborhood breakfasts."
Castillo added that Dale Smith was an enthusiastic aviator, beaming with pride about being able to fly. He's keeping a close eye on news reports about the plane's disappearance and maintains an optimistic attitude.
"We're going to hope," Castillo said. "Nothing else is on our mind except that they're well and strong enough to survive until rescuers locate them."