UPDATE 6/30 11:50 p.m.: The Kalispell Daily Inter Lake reports that all four bodies of those missing were discovered in the fuselage of the plane wreakage found south of Dixon. The discovery ended the hope among family and friends lingering since the plane dropped off the radar late Sunday afternoon. According to the Inter Lake, where two of the victims were reporters, a helicopter from Malmstrom Air Force Base was used to lower the crew’s medic and Sanders County Undersheriff Rube Wrightsman into the area. They soon determined there were no survivors.
“We did confirm it was the plane that we were looking for, and we also confirmed there were four deceased people in the plane,” Wrightsman said. “Because of the ruggedness of the area, you almost had be right over top to see it.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has been notified and will take over the investigation, and the Federal Aviation Administration also has been contacted, Wrightsman said.
UPDATE 6/30 4:30 p.m.: The Missoulian is reporting that the crash site spotted today is in Revais Creek area near the National Bison Range. Familes and friends of the victims are searching on foot for their loved ones. A helicopter from Great Falls is headed for the site, along with Lake County officials, who will rappel to the aircraft.
UPDATE 6/30 3:30 p.m.: The Associated Press is reporting that plane wreakage matching the description of the ’68 Piper Arrow that went missing out of Kalispell Sunday night was spotted Wednesday afternoon. Lake County Spokeswoman Carey Cooley says a pilot with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection spotted the crash site in rough terrain just inside the Sanders County line.
There is no word yet on the passengers.
Pilot Sonny Kless, friend Brian Williams and two newspaper reporters from the Daily Inter Lake of Kalispell, Melissa Weaver and Erika Hoefer, took off on a sightseeing trip on Sunday afternoon and never returned.
UPDATE 6/30 10 a.m.: The search continued Wednesday morning. So far, no evidence of the plane or the four aboard it has been found. According to Sanders County Undersheriff Rube Wrightsman, who is quoted in the Daily Inter Lake, Tuesday’s search involved 10 airplanes, five boats, all-terrain vehicles, a team of horses and three or four helicopters. It was postponed due to a storm Tuesday night and resumed early Wednesday.
According to the Missoulian, three of those missing are connected to University of Montana. In addition to Weaver, who graduated from the journalism school, pilot Sonny Kless recently graduated with a degree in environmental studies. Brian Willaims, a friend of Kless, was enrolled in the law school.
Four people—including two reporters from the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake—who took off on a sightseeing tour of Glacier National Park were still missing Tuesday. The search shifted this morning from the National Bison Range to the Flathead River, where rescue boats were covering weedy areas looking for clues.
Missing are 23-year-old Melissa Weaver, a 2009 University of Montana journalism graduate from Billings, and Erika Hoefer, 27, of Beloit, Wisc., pilot Sonny Kless and a friend of his, whose name has not been released. Weaver and Hoefer, friends and reporters in Kalispell, boarded the plane on a day off. Jim Mann of the Daily Inter Lake quotes Flathead County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ernie Freebury regarding the last known contact from the women. At least one text message was sent between Weaver and Hoefer at 3:47 p.m.
“The last text they sent pinged off the Ronan tower,” Freebury told the Inter Lake. “That was our second confirmation, besides the radar data, that they were in that area.”
Friends and families of the women issued pleas on Facebook. “A reporter I usually see everyday is missing. Please be thinking of her and the others with her,” posted one.
Kless, who chartered the light plane, last made radio contact with the tower at Glacier Park International Airport at 2:11 p.m. on Sunday. He told the tower he was east of Kalispell, traveling south to north.
The plane, a ’68 single-engine piper arrow, last was tracked by radar at about 300 feet above ground level west of the Bison Range at Moiese.
It went off the radar screen at 4:02 p.m., Freebury said.