CODY, Wyo. — The bodies of two brothers whose small plane crashed on a snowy mountain near Yellowstone National Park are being returned to their families.
The bodies of Robert L. Zimmerman, 84, of Huntsville, Alabama and Ward H. Zimmerman, 86, were airlifted off Howell Mountain on Tuesday, three weeks after their 1963 Mooney M20C was last seen.
The plane’s wreckage was found from the air May 12 but authorities decided the risk of an avalanche was too great to recover the men, who were presumed dead. It was originally thought that the unstable snowpack on the 10,964-foot peak could delay recovery for up to several months but Park County Scott Steward surveyed the site from the air on Monday and deemed it safe for the operation.
Still, the helicopter couldn’t land on the mountain but instead hovered with just the front of its skids touching the snow. Five members of the county search and rescue team and sheriff’s Commander Martin Knapp got out and used a longline to attach the bodies to the helicopter and airlift them.
“The team was in and out with extreme precision and the mission was over in less than four hours,” Steward said in a statement. “Hopefully this will bring closure to the family as well as our team members.”
The brothers took off from Cody near Yellowstone on May 6. They planned to fly around the park before heading to Twin Falls, Idaho and then Seattle.
The sheriff’s office said the wreckage suggests that the plane hit the mountain about 300 feet below its summit and then slid down to its final resting place.
Both men were found in their seats and are believed to have died on impact. Autopsies were pending.