The Park County Sheriff Office says the determination was made after viewing the crash site from the air. The danger of avalanche made it too risky to put people on the rugged, snowy mountain just outside Yellowstone National Park.
“Given the damage to the aircraft as well as the extremely harsh environmental conditions in the area, I think there’s no other conclusion we can make,” Sheriff Scott Steward said in a statement.
The 1963 Mooney M20C was last seen May 6 departing Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody.
On board were Robert L. Zimmerman, 84, of Huntsville, Alabama, and Ward H. Zimmerman, 86, of Seattle. The plane was reported missing Saturday and was found Monday at about 9,900-foot elevation on a 60-degree slope with a large cornice above it on Howell Mountain, which peaks at 10,964 feet in elevation.
A Wyoming Army National Guard helicopter flew over the crash site Monday evening to evaluate the possibility of winching a crew member down to the plane to determine the condition of the occupants.
However, Park County Search and Rescue Commander Martin Knapp, who accompanied the helicopter crew, determined it was too dangerous to make the attempt.
“After reviewing the conditions at the site of the wreckage and taking into account my years of experience in avalanche evaluation and mitigation, I simply could not in good conscience risk any more lives,” Knapp said.
The brothers were headed from Cody to Twin Falls, Idaho, and then to Seattle. They had planned to fly over Yellowstone after taking off from the Cody airport.
Jim Zimmerman, of Renton, told The Seattle Times that the brothers were both experienced pilots. Jim Zimmerman is the son of Ward Zimmerman, a retired Boeing engineer from Seattle.
Joel Simmons, director of operations of the aviation services company Choice Aviation in Cody, said the brothers flew at a time when he would not have tried to fly because of inclement weather in the area.
“They said they were comfortable with it and would push out of there,” Simmons said. “They were determined to keep moving.”
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