Plane with Minn. exec, 3 kids aboard missing Wyo.

AP News
Posted: Oct 26, 2010 7:41 PM
Plane with Minn. exec, 3 kids aboard missing Wyo.

Searchers in helicopters and on the ground began scouring a rugged western Wyoming mountain range Tuesday for a Minnesota executive and his three children missing since their plane took off in snowy weather a day earlier.

Web development company Sierra Bravo Corp. in Bloomington, Minn., reported company President Luke Bucklin was the pilot.

Bucklin's wife, Ginger, wrote on the couple's personal website that Bucklin's three sons, two age 14 and one age 12, were flying with him.

The single-engine Mooney airplane left Jackson airport at about noon Monday, radio station KOVE/KDLY in Lander reported. The plane disappeared from radar about an hour later near Gannett Peak, which at over 13,800 feet is the highest mountain in Wyoming.

Sgt. Ryan Lee of the Fremont County sheriff's office said searchers in a helicopter scanned the area near Gannett Peak during a break in snowy weather but saw nothing.

Lee said more air searches were likely Tuesday as weather allowed.

The large search area "consists of rugged mountainous terrain, with heavy timber, large ravines and steep cliffs," Lee said. "The area itself is approximately 13,000 feet in altitude and glaciers are predominating throughout the year."

A three-man crew from the National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander, was heading into the mountains Tuesday afternoon to search on the ground. The school takes students on strenuous mountaineering trips and other adventures.

John Gookin, a Lander Search and Rescue commander who also works at NOLS, said the searchers were flown into the mountain range Tuesday and were hiking perhaps 5 miles to the search area. They planned to camp in the area overnight before focusing on the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek, where the airplane's radar track ended.

Gookin said the pilot was communicating with air traffic controllers before it lost contact. He said air traffic controllers told the pilot to get up to 15,000 feet to clear the mountain range.

A similar airplane crashed one drainage further north six years ago, Gookin said. He said it took weeks to find it, and said doing so required the efforts of searchers on the ground.

Bucklin, 41, was one of three co-founders of Sierra Bravo in 2003 and was in Jackson on a family vacation, said Mark Hurlburt, the company's vice president of marketing. Nerdery Interactive Labs is a division of Sierra Bravo.

A posting on the company's blog said Chief Financial Officer Mike Derheim addressed the company's entire staff Tuesday.

"We know that he left Wyoming flying his own plane yesterday, and that ground control lost contact with him at about 2 p.m.," Derheim said on the website. "We know that search efforts have been hindered by bad weather, and that it has only recently cleared enough for planes and hikers to conduct a search."

Ray Bishop, director of the Jackson airport, said the plane took off while it was snowing heavily.

Despite the weather, Bishop said the decision to fly was up to the pilot. "The pilot in command is the pilot in command," he said.

Bishop said there were other planes taking off and leaving the airport at about the same time.

Mike Fergus, spokesman for the FAA regional office in Seattle, said Tuesday said his agency has issued an alert notice to all airstrips the plane might have diverted to.

(This version CORRECTS 10th paragraph to say "the pilot" was told to get to 15,000 feet, instead of using Bucklin's name, since Gookin did not disclose the pilot's identity.)