SAN JOSE -- Dellon Smith and seven men searching for his brother's downed plane were so discouraged after spending half the day thigh-deep in snow on a false lead deep in the Idaho wilderness, they were almost ready to give up until the spring thaw.

But with a couple hours of daylight left Friday -- and seven weeks behind them of searching for Dale Smith and four members of his San Jose family -- they decided to give it one more try. Exhausted and trudging on snowshoes, Smith and his search partner, Arthur Stock, descended the west side of Antimony Ridge.

Then they saw it: the airplane's wing thrusting up through the snow.

Searchers look for a missing plane on Antimony Ridge, near Yellow Pine, Idaho in early January 2014. A search party spearheaded by Dellon Smith, brother of
Searchers look for a missing plane on Antimony Ridge, near Yellow Pine, Idaho in early January 2014. A search party spearheaded by Dellon Smith, brother of missing pilot and Silicon Valley executive Dale Smith, 51, found the wreckage of the plane on Friday, Jan. 10. Smith and five others on the plane perished in the crash, including Smith's son Daniel, 26, and his wife, Sheree, his daughter Amber, 20, and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, who were to be married last Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the Smith family) ( COURTESY PHOTO )

"You just want to run to it as quickly as you can," Dellon Smith, a 38-year-old Alaskan bush pilot, said Saturday. "It was the closest I could get to my brother.

"You wanted to get to it as fast as you could and put your hands on it like you're giving him a hug."

A hard wind was blowing across the ridge. He pushed away the piles of snow and could see the tremendous damage. The plane had cut through scores of trees and broken apart as it crashed into the mountainside and caught fire. Standing next to the plane in the dense woods, he broke down in tears.

"The plane hit with such force it was over instantly," he said. "We're just grateful for that. There was no pain or suffering whatsoever."


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He hiked up to a clear spot and called his brother's wife, Janis, who had lost half her family when the plane vanished Dec. 1. She was home in San Jose with her two teenage sons.

"The search is over," he said. He told her he loved her.

"At first I told him he was my best friend. He found my family," she said. "Then I just cried."

Volunteers from across the West had joined the search for the family that went missing after Dale Smith, a 51-year-old San Jose tech executive, took flight with his oldest son, Daniel, 26, and his wife, Sheree, and his daughter Amber, 20, and her fiance, Jonathan Norton.

Searchers look for a missing plane on Antimony Ridge, near Yellow Pine, Idaho in early January 2014. A search spearheaded by by Dellon Smith, brother of
Searchers look for a missing plane on Antimony Ridge, near Yellow Pine, Idaho in early January 2014. A search spearheaded by by Dellon Smith, brother of missing pilot and Silicon Valley executive Dale Smith, 51, found the wreckage of the plane on Friday, Jan. 10. Smith and five others on the plane perished in the crash, including Smith's son Daniel, 26, and his wife, Sheree, his daughter Amber, 20, and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, who were to be married last Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the Smith family) ( COURTESY PHOTO )

After spending Thanksgiving weekend together at an Oregon ranch, Smith was flying his four passengers to Montana, where one couple lived and the other planned to drive back to school at Brigham Young University's Idaho campus.

But Smith was having engine trouble and radioed that the plane was icing. He asked for directions to Johnson Creek Airport, just south of Yellow Pine, Idaho.

The crash site was found three-and-a-half miles away.

It took so much manpower, so many satellite images and flight simulations, so many math calculations and mapping coordinates, audio files and radar reports to find it. The volunteers included mountain men and professors, pilots and snowmobilers and Idaho locals who knew the unforgiving terrain.

Searchers gather as they look for a plane on Antimony Ridge, near Yellow Pine, Idaho in early January 2014. A search party spearheaded by by Dellon Smith,
Searchers gather as they look for a plane on Antimony Ridge, near Yellow Pine, Idaho in early January 2014. A search party spearheaded by by Dellon Smith, brother of missing pilot and Silicon Valley executive Dale Smith, 51, found the wreckage of the plane on Friday, Jan. 10. Smith and five others on the plane perished in the crash, including Smith's son Daniel, 26, and his wife, Sheree, his daughter Amber, 20, and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, who were to be married last Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the Smith family) ( COURTESY PHOTO )

The latest clue took the searchers early Friday morning to the eastern side of the ridge, where a pair of volunteers had caught a glimpse by air of something reflective, something they hoped would be a plane.

There had been so many false sightings -- someone waving, a shelter, a shape -- that Janis Smith didn't want to give it much credence. Even she was convinced days after the crash that her husband was sending her a message by spelling out his initials, DTS, in logs in the snow. But the trees and shadows were playing tricks on her.

"After that, I thought I just couldn't ride this roller coaster anymore," she said.

But the hardy, relentless group of searchers were optimistic about that glint of light. It was so close to another possible crash site, on the opposite slope, they had planned to canvas.

So on Friday morning, eight men on a Snowcat chain-sawed their way up the steep mountain on an old jeep trail. Snowshoeing through the fresh powder, they hunted for hours, prodding the depths with their ski poles hoping to hit something hard. All they hit was ice.

"We had a pretty high confidence level in that site, so we were fairly disappointed when we missed it," said Jim Higgins, who had trailered his Snowcat from Chico earlier in the week. "We went to the top of the ridge, built a fire, warmed up and regrouped."

There was talk of calling off the search. They were cold and demoralized.

But Stock, who had been part of the search from the start, urged them on.

Just 100 yards from the campfire, after pushing through four feet of snow, they finally found what had eluded them for so long.

When the weather improves, Valley County authorities will begin recovery efforts, as the family begins to look to the future.

Life, Janis Smith said, must go on.

Last week, her youngest son turned 13. And on Saturday, surrounded by friends and the rest of his family, his birthday party went ahead as planned.