SAN JOSE -- Ice buildup in the engine of a small plane caused a crash in the Idaho backcountry that claimed the lives of a San Jose tech executive and four relatives in December, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The agency's probable-cause report, released Aug. 28, says the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft flown by 51-year-old Dale Smith was "not certified for icing conditions" he and his passengers encountered Dec. 1 while flying from Baker City, Ore., to Butte, Mont. after celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.
Smith told air traffic controllers that the plane was picking up too much ice and asked to be diverted to an airport 96 miles away. The NTSB said the pilot could not heed a controller's instructions to maintain an altitude of 12,000 feet to avoid the mountainous terrain, descending to 10,000 feet while he detailed engine problems over the radio.
The controller was directing the plane to a different airport 24 miles away when Smith reported it "just lost its engine." The controller then tried to alert them to a small airport below the plane's position when communications ceased.
The NTSB reported investigators could not determine if Smith knew about the bad weather he would be encountering and concluded the crash was likely due to "the pilot's continued flight into known light-to-moderate icing conditions over mountainous terrain. Contributing to the accident was the loss of engine power due to induction icing."
Steep, rough terrain and snow prevented the wreckage from being found until Jan. 10, 1.6 miles northwest of Johnson Creek Airport, and only after Smith's brother made a last-ditch attempt to search for the pilot and Smith's son Daniel, 26, his wife, Sheree, as well as daughter Amber, 20, and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, who were to be married Jan. 4.
The victims were laid to rest during a February ceremony in San Jose, where Smith and his family lived.
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.