(Cody, Wyo.) – Robert L. Zimmerman, age 84 of Huntsville, Alabama and his older brother, 86 year old Ward H. Zimmerman of Seattle, Washington are both presumed dead as a result of the crash of their small plane in the Washakie Wilderness area of Park County. 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. They were reported missing by family members the following Saturday.
The Park County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team (SAR) located the 1963 Mooney M20C aircraft at 9:19 a.m. on Monday, May 12, using a helicopter provided by Sky Aviation based out of Worland. The missing aircraft was located on the eastern slope of Howell Mountain approximately 4.5 miles south of Highway 14-16-20 west at the Buffalo Bill Boy Scout Camp. It was settled in a steep ravine on a 60 degree slope with a large cornice of snow situated above it. It had heavy front end damage and one wing has been torn from the plane. Tests performed by the SAR team determined that the snowpack directly above the wreckage was extremely unstable and that the risk of an avalanche was too high to attempt to reach the plane.
A Black Hawk helicopter from Charlie Company 5-159, Wyoming Army National Guard flew over the scene of the wreckage on the evening of Monday, May 12 to evaluate the possibility of winching a crew member to the site to determine the condition of the occupants. However, Park County Search and Rescue Commander Martin Knapp, who accompanied the Black Hawk crew, evaluated the scene and determined that the avalanche risk was too high for the crewman to make the attempt.
“After reviewing the conditions at the site of the wreckage and taking into account my years of experience in avalanche evaluation and mitigation, I simply could not in good conscience risk any more lives,” said Knapp. “I realize it’s hard for the family of the brothers, but I have been in contact with them and they were in complete agreement with our decision.”
After reviewing aerial photographs of the scene and discussions with SAR personnel as well as the crew of the Black Hawk, Sheriff Scott Steward was forced to conclude that the brothers perished as a result of the crash.
“Given the damage to the aircraft as well as the extremely harsh environmental conditions in the area, I think there’s no other conclusion we can make,” commented Sheriff Steward. “Our prayers go out to the family of the Zimmerman brothers. The entire Park County Sheriff’s Office family wishes to express our sincere condolences.”
Sheriff Steward went on to praise members of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit for their unselfish sacrifice and persistent determination to resolve this tragic situation. “Our initial team spent over 14 hours in the back country on foot trekking through five feet of snow, over extreme mountainous terrain, in winds of up to 50 mph in an attempt to reach the downed aircraft,” said Steward. “These people are all volunteers and I can’t say enough about their dedication. The people of Park County are fortunate to have them available.”
Sheriff Steward went on to say that the Sheriff’s Office will continue to monitor the conditions at the site of the wreckage and will begin a recovery effort as soon as it is safe to do so. Local residents are encouraged to avoid the area due to the avalanche hazard and out of respect for the Zimmerman family.
–Photos and information provided by Park County Sheriff’s Office