CODY, Wyo. (WHNT) - The Park County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team (SAR) have recovered the bodies of two elderly brothers who crashed their small plane on the eastern slope of Howell Mountain earlier this month.
The bodies of Robert Zimmerman, 84, of Huntsville and his brother, Ward Zimmerman, 86 of Seattle, were evacuated from the wreckage of their Mooney M20C aircraft at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The brothers departed Yellowstone Regional Airport on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. en route to Twin Falls, Idaho via Yellowstone National Park, according to the sheriff’s office. They were reported missing by family members the following Saturday. A helicopter located the wreckage on the morning of May 12.
The aircraft was found on the eastern slope of Howell Mountai. Tests performed by SAR at the time of the discovery determined that the snow pack directly above the wreckage was extremely unstable and that the risk of an avalanche was too high to attempt to reach the plane.
However, due to the condition of the wreckage and harsh environmental conditions at the time, both brothers were presumed dead, according to the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Scott Steward himself surveyed the site from the air on May 26 and was able to see firsthand that the mountain and surrounding snowfall was more stable. He then made the decision to send in a team.
Using the same helicopter that located the crash, five members of SAR were inserted into the crash scene Wednesday morning.
Conditions at the site, including the slope of the mountain prevented the helicopter from landing. As a result, the SAR team was inserted into the site as the helicopter hovered with the front of its skids touching the snow and the back of its skids some three feet from the ground, 100 yards from the wreckage. The victims were then airlifted out using a “long line” deployed from the helicopter.
“Park County should be extremely proud of these volunteers. I consider them one of the best, if not the top search and rescue unit in the state,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said.
“It was unfortunate that we had to wait as long as we did to get the victims out, but I could not consciously send our folks in to the extremely dangerous avalanche situation that we were faced with, so I made the call to wait until the conditions were safe. The families understood our decision,” he continued.
According to the sheriff’s office, both victims were discovered still in their seats. An examination of the site indicated that the aircraft impacted the mountain some 300 feet from the top and slid down the mountain to its final resting place. Although it appears as though they both died on impact, an exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.
“The recovery mission went off like a well-oiled machine,” concluded Steward. “The team was in and out with extreme precision and the mission was over in less than four hours. Hopefully this will help bring closure to the family as well as our team members.”