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Brothers’ downed plane found near Yellowstone

Tue., May 13, 2014

Avalanche threat keeps rescuers away from ravine

SEATTLE – Family members of two brothers whose single-engine plane was found crashed Monday near Yellowstone National Park are still holding out hope the two are alive.

The brothers, both pilots in their 80s, flew out of Cody, Wyoming, on May 6, even though the snowy, rainy weather was bad enough that the man in charge where they refueled said he wouldn’t have done it.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office in Cody said the 1963 Mooney M20C “settled in a steep ravine with a large cornice of snow situated above it. It has heavy front-end damage, and one wing has been torn from the plane.”

But the threat of an avalanche kept rescuers Monday from getting to the plane from where their helicopter had landed on top of a mountain overlooking the crash, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

It said the condition of the brothers isn’t yet known.

Ward Zimmerman, 86, a retired Boeing engineer from Seattle, and his brother, Robert Zimmerman, 84, of Huntsville, Alabama, had been flying around the country for several weeks on a pleasure trip.

Both were longtime, experienced pilots, said Jim Zimmerman, of Renton, Washington, a son of Ward Zimmerman.

On Monday, the sheriff asked for a Black Hawk helicopter from the Air National Guard base in Cheyenne to help out. It has winch capabilities.

Once the Black Hawk reaches the scene, the Sheriff’s Office said, “options will be discussed that include possibly lowering rescuers down to the wreckage to determine the condition of the men.”

It wasn’t clear whether that would happen late Monday or sometime today.

Meanwhile, relatives held out hope.

“It doesn’t look good right now, but they haven’t confirmed anything,” Jim Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said his dad and uncle kept in touch with various family members, who had not heard from them since May 6. But it was not unusual for the brothers to deviate from their travel plans.

On Thursday, the family began making calls to authorities.

The Sheriff’s Office said the plane was last seen May 6 departing Yellowstone Regional Airport.

The brothers were headed from Cody to Twin Falls, Idaho, and from there to Seattle. Radar last detected the plane about 7 miles outside the Yellowstone east entrance in northwest Wyoming, the Sheriff’s Office said.

On Monday, Joel Simmons, director of operations at Choice Aviation in Cody, the facility from which the brothers had refueled, said the two brothers felt that a departure at around noon gave them “a little window” in between “some big weather systems.”

It had been raining and snowing throughout the day, he said. Simmons said he wouldn’t have taken off then for a flight to Twin Falls.

“It was inclement weather, freezing temperatures, a low cloud cover over some mountains west of us,” Simmons said. “They said they were comfortable with it and would push out of there. They were determined to keep moving.”

He said the brothers did say that if the weather worsened, “they would try to come back.”

Initially, the Sheriff’s Office said that due to the size of their aircraft, the brothers were not required to file a flight plan.

Planes fly with either Visual Flight Rules (VFR), in which they use cues such as the horizon or buildings, or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), the kind used when there is no visibility outside and mandated for all commercial passenger planes.

Simmons said the brothers’ plane wasn’t equipped with IFR and doesn’t believe they were even “IFR rated.”

It is up to pilots to make the final decision on whether to fly out using visual rules and decide if the weather permits it, although the FAA has guidelines.

It is up to them whether to file a flight plan when flying VFR, said the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

They hadn’t.


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