SAN JOSE -- An increasingly desperate search in the rugged, mountainous and freezing backcountry of central Idaho again Thursday found no signs of a missing small plane piloted by a San Jose high-tech executive.

It marked the fifth day of fruitless searching in the remote region for Dale Smith and four members of his family who were flying last Sunday in a single-engine Beech Bonanza that disappeared after reporting engine trouble. The effort was hampered by worsening weather Thursday afternoon -- further dimming the hopes of a tight-knit family of San Jose natives waiting anxiously for news.

"The biggest concern is the weather," said Rob Feeley, spokesman for the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security. "We had clouds rolling into late today and we actually had two aircraft turn back. That's the major factor in the search now."

Dale Smith
Dale Smith (KGO-TV)

But even as another day passed, officials continue to call it a rescue search rather than a recovery effort.

"We have seen humans endure incredible hardship and come out the other end," Feeley added. "That's what our searchers are thinking."

Thursday evening, authorities said storms were moving into the area on Friday and expected to continue through the weekend, and those conditions may limit the resources that can be deployed.

About 40 ground searchers spent Thursday focusing on areas east of the Johnson Creek Airstrip, a grass-covered landing strip the plane apparently was trying to reach after Dale Smith reported an engine problem.


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Five aircraft scoured the region from above, combing for signs of the lost red-and-white plane. Later in the day, four helicopters joined the operation -- including two from the Idaho Army National Guard with infrared capabilities.

But the search area is challenging with mountain peaks reaching as high as 9,000 feet, heavy forests and nighttime temperatures that have plunged below zero this week.

"It's full-on winter here," Feeley said. "There's two to three feet snow on the mountaintops and light snow on the valley floors."

Incident Commander Lt. Dan Smith of the Valley County Sheriff's Office said Thursday evening that this week has been "difficult primarily for the family but also for the search teams."

"We are all frustrated that we have not yet been able to locate the missing plane but we will continue to search," he said.

In addition to Dale Smith, a father of five who lives in South San Jose and co-founded the Silicon Valley data-storage firm SerialTek, aboard the plane were his son Daniel Smith and his wife Sheree Smith, as well as daughter Amber Smith and her fiancé Jonathan Norton.

Amber Smith and Norton, who are scheduled to graduate next year from BYU-Idaho, are to be married on Jan. 4.

David Christensen, whose daughter-in-law is pilot Dale Smith's oldest daughter, Crystal, said 25 to 30 family members and close friends have gathered in Idaho. About half are helping with the search, with the others -- including the pilot's wife, Janis -- staying in the town of Cascade, holding out hope.

"The family is as optimistic and upbeat as you can possibly be," said Christensen, a San Jose native who now lives in Utah. "Everyone is keeping their chins up. The authorities are working so hard and doing so much out-of-the-box thinking that it's really made us feel so good."

But he's concerned about the weather making the search even more difficult.

"It's just so big out there," Christensen added. "It's a lot of rock, steep cliffs, mountains and densely wooded areas."

The traveling group had been in Baker City, Ore., where Dale Smith's father lives, celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. On Sunday, the five were traveling in the six-seat plane built in 1983 to Butte, Mont., to drop off Daniel and Sheree Smith.

Dale Smith reported engine trouble and asked Salt Lake City air traffic controllers for coordinates to the Johnson Creek landing strip near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area -- located about 100 miles east of Baker City.

Then the plane lost radar and cell tower contact.

Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.