Brothers' bodies recovered from plane wreckage near Yellowstone

2014-05-27T22:48:00Z 2014-06-03T11:58:10Z Brothers' bodies recovered from plane wreckage near YellowstoneBy NICK BALATSOS The Billings Gazette

The Park County, Wyo., Sheriff's Office has recovered the bodies of the two brothers who crashed their small single-engine aircraft earlier this month on the eastern slope of Howell Mountain, according to a press release.

Using "long ropes," the search and rescue team rappelled down to the crash area and discovered the brothers' bodies still in their seats at around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Taking off May 6 from Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, Wyo., the two brothers — 84-year-old Robert Zimmerman, of Huntsville, Ala., and 86-year-old Ward Zimmerman, of Seattle — planned on flying their 1963 Mooney aircraft over Yellowstone National Park to visit friends in Twin Falls, Idaho.

From there, they were headed back to Seattle. But it was a destination they'd never reach. 

After family members reported the two brothers missing, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, an agency responsible for coordinating land-based federal search and rescue missions, was able to used archived radar data to partially track the flight path of Zimmerman’s aircraft.

They tracked the plane to a point approximately 4.5 miles south of the North Fork Highway at the Buffalo Bill Boy Scout Camp. The location is southeast of an area known as Paradise Valley on the eastern slope of Howell Mountain, just outside Yellowstone National Park. 

Search and Rescue located the plane May 12 by using a helicopter from Sky Aviation out of Worland, but dangerous avalanche conditions thwarted several attempts to reach the the plane.

On May 13, the sheriff's office decided to call off further rescue attempts. "Due to the condition of the wreckage and harsh environmental conditions at the time, both brothers were presumed dead," the release stated.

After noting conditions that were much improved when he flew over the site on Monday, Sheriff Scott Steward it was safe enough to send in a search team Tuesday.

According to the release, five members of the search and rescue team roped down to the crash scene from a helicopter at approximately 7 a.m. on Tuesday, as ground conditions prevented the aircraft from landing. 

When the team got to the wreckage, both brothers were discovered still in their seats.

An examination of the crash site suggested that the plane wrecked into the mountain about 300 feet above the crash site, and then slid down. 

"Although it appears as though they both died on impact, an exact cause of death is pending an autopsy," the release stated. 

“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," said Sheriff Scott Steward in the release. "The families understood our decision.” 

The sheriff praised the rescue team's efforts. 

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