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Silicon Valley executive and family found dead in missing plane in Idaho

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[January 11, 2014]  SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) — Searchers combing snowbound mountains in Idaho on Friday found the wreckage of a plane that crashed in early December, killing the pilot, a Silicon Valley software executive, his two adult children and their partners, a family member said.

Dale Smith, co-founder and chief executive of data storage firm SerialTek, had been taking his family home in the 1980s-model Beechcraft Bonanza on December 1 after spending Thanksgiving in Oregon, company co-founder Rand Kriech said.

Smith complained of engine trouble and then lost contact with air traffic controllers on the flight to Butte, Montana with his son Daniel, daughter-in-law Sheree, daughter Amber and her fiancé, Jonathan Norton, who were to be married on January 4.

"I was told by family members they did not suffer. That leads me to believe they died on impact," Norton's uncle, Brad Norton, said.

The search team — including Smith's brother, Dellon Smith — did not expect to find survivors because of weather conditions in the remote area of central Idaho, about 120 miles northeast of Boise, Norton said.

Rescuers had homed in on the area by tracking cellphone signals of those aboard as well as an emergency locator signal from the airplane that was picked up on December 3, Valley County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rob Feeley said.

"The plane is in pieces and buried in snow. They have not yet found all the parts," Dale Smith's wife, Janis Smith, said in an online statement.

"I am so grateful that Dellon was the one who found his brother," she said.

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An approaching winter storm may hinder recovery efforts, Norton said.

The official search effort was called off in mid-December because of the rough terrain and weather conditions, but the family continued the search privately by ground and by air.

Kriech described Smith as a devout Mormon, an engineer, and a humanitarian who would ferry needy people in his plane to get medical treatment in Mexico, and who flew to the Gulf Coast to offer help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Writing by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; editing by Louise Ireland)

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