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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2003


Plane wreckage found after five-day search

Pilot, James J. Woodyard, dies

"It was very windy last night. Even an experienced pilot has to deal with the challenges of the wind sometimes."

DAVID SNELL, Civil Air Patrol captain

Express Staff Writer

Following a massive five-day search that covered thousands of square miles of rugged Idaho backcountry, searchers found the downed plane of the missing pilot on the top of Lookout Mountain, southeast of Bellevue, on Sunday.

The pilot, Hailey resident James J. Woodyard, 61, is not believed to have survived the impact of the crash, which occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at approximately 6:30 p.m. The Cessna 210’s only occupant, Woodyard crashed while preparing to land in high winds at Hailey’s Friedman Memorial Airport following a business trip to Boise.

On Monday, Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling assembled a team of rescue and law enforcement personnel to hike to the wreckage at 7,400 feet, 49 feet below the summit of Lookout Mountain. Femling said he had been asked by the Federal Aviation Administration to examine the crash site for clues about the cause of the accident.

"We were able to get Jim’s remains out," Femling said. "There’s not much left of the plane. There was a fire. It’s on a steep, steep hillside up there at a little more than 7,400 feet."

Femling said Woodyard’s remains would be transferred to Blaine County Coroner Russ Mikel for an autopsy. Also, the National Transportation and Safety Board will take over the investigation, he said.

During a Monday morning press briefing, Femling and Sun Valley Mayor David Wilson, who was Woodyard’s business partner, friend and a fellow pilot, outlined a theory about what might have happened.

They said the westerly winds reached 100 knots, or about 120 mph, Wednesday night and greatly increased Woodyards air speed as he flew east toward the Wood River Valley. When he flew over the northeastern part of the Camas Prairie at 6:18 p.m., he radioed to the Hailey control tower for permission to descend from 9,500 feet to 7,500 feet.

Five minutes later, at 6:23 p.m., he radioed the tower to report he was 5 miles away from the airport. After that, the radio remained silent, and Woodyard did not arrive at the airport as scheduled.

Femling said Woodyard, following a standard pilot’s procedure, may have initiated a large counterclockwise circle in order to drop in altitude, but the wind may have blown him farther east than planned. That would explain the crash site’s location on the northeast flank of Lookout Mountain, he said.

Additionally, Wilson said it is difficult to see in the darkness of the night sky, and the problem is compounded by a bright console with numerous back lit gauges and dials.

"All you can see is the lights of Hailey," he said, pointing out that everything else is absolute darkness. Wilson said Woodyard was probably traveling at 170 mph or more when he hit Lookout Mountain.

Femling, stressing that the theory is completely speculative, said the wind may have been the primary contributing factor.

"I can tell you that with those kind of wind speeds, it would have been easy for him to get blown by here," he said.

Wilson, who was in a helicopter above the wreckage on Sunday afternoon, said the plane looked like a "blob."

"It was a very severe impact," he said.

When the plane and pilot did not land in Hailey on Wednesday, a search and rescue operation quickly ensued and ran through the night. By Sunday, the search and rescue operation had mushroomed to include more than 200 people, two helicopters and 11 airplanes. In addition to the Blaine County Search and Rescue Team and Galena Backcountry Ski Patrol, search and rescue teams from Camas, Elmore, Gooding and Twin Falls counties joined the search. The American Red Cross and Idaho Civil Air Patrol also assisted.

"It was an emotional rollercoaster type of search," said Sun Valley Police Chief Cam Daggett, who, as a member of search and rescue, coordinated the ground effort. "Jim was a member of the search and rescue team."

Daggett said it was a spectacular sight every morning to see so many cars streaming toward the search command post along Willow Creek, north of Fairfield.

"If you could have been there in the middle of that farmer’s field at 7 a.m. and seen that string of cars coming up the road with their headlights on—It was an amazing sight."

Daggett called the operation "a huge, community-wide, support-based search. It was good to see it all come together that way."

The initial search on Wednesday night covered areas, primarily south of Hailey, where it seemed Woodyard would most likely have crashed or made an emergency landing. Thursday morning, five planes took advantage of first light to begin searching, said Blaine County Chief Deputy Sheriff Gene Ramsey.

The air search was expanded to include terrain up to 50 miles from the airport by Thursday afternoon. Ground crews were covering an area reaching 10 miles from the airport. Ground searchers rode horses, motorcycles, ATVs and hiked. Some hikers were air dropped into rough, difficult terrain.

By Sunday, searchers had looked from Magic Reservoir to Hailey and from Craters of the Moon National Monument to Wells Summit in the Smoky Mountains.

"It was a huge area, absolutely huge," Femling said. "There’s no way we could have done this with only the people we have."

Femling said the Lookout Mountain area where Woodyard’s plane was discovered had been flown "so many times already."

"You can tell how difficult it is to see a plane that goes into the side of a mountain," he said.

Woodyard is survived by his wife, Sue, and daughter, Jesse. He also has three daughters from a prior marriage.

"We lost one of the truly great people in the community," Femling said.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, Dec. 14, at the Limelight Room in the Sun Valley Inn. A separate memorial service will be Saturday, Dec. 6, in Los Angeles at Forest Lawn and Lakeside Country Club.



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