The first we heard, was when someone stopped by and asked if we had seen the small plane owned by a rancher farther up the valley. Mom and I joined the search and drove downriver, then up a side stream toward the higher hills in the flight path the plane would have been on, on its way home.
The man flying the plane was a very careful pilot and it seemed impossible that he could have possibly made some kind of mistake. He would never fly if he had been drinking and was very careful, even when he didn’t have family with him.
This trip, he had his wife, all his daughters plus a neighbor’s daughter. His son did not make the trip as he was recovering from a cold or the flu.
Mom and I drove slowly along the highway, searching the hills on both sides of the road for any sign of tree damage or fire. We finally spotted something that didn’t look right in the sparse juniper trees on the right side of the highway as we headed west.
We parked off the edge of the road and started hiking up the hill. There was the plane, looking like it had dropped straight down out of the sky. There were charred areas directly above the plane in the tree limbs, but the fire had not spread, nor had the plane sheared off trees or limbs on either side.
Mom began taking pictures and we moved around the plane on all sides, documenting the damage to the plane and the ground around it. There was no movement in the plane.
Mom stepped to the open door, gave a gasp and started clicking pictures faster than ever, not touching a thing. Then she came over where she had told me to stay and said, they are all dead.
The inside of the plane was charred from fire, the girls were all in their seats, bent over facing the front, with their coat pulled up over their heads as though they were trying to filter out the smoke. From the waist up, they were not burned but from the waist down, they were just charred and unrecognizable as part of a human. We could not see the parents and did not want to step into the plane and disturb evidence.
The flags we had left tied on limbs to mark location soon guided several men up to the plane. The men looked at us, then the plane, then saw Mom’s cameras. One that was evidently the leader walked over quickly, grabbed the 16 mm. movie camera and opened the side, exposing all the film in it. Mom was quickly rewinding her small 35 mm still camera and popped out the film cartridge. The man rudely grabbed it from her and ordered us off the hill.
We hurried down to the Jeep and went home. Neither of us felt comfortable with that group of silent men.
These men were not in uniform, nor were they locals that we would have recognized. We never did learn who they were nor what authority they had to confiscate Mom’s film and expose the movie film.
Later, when a report was given on the cause of the accident, they blamed the pilot, saying he must have been drinking. They also said he flew the plane into the side of the hill. Unless he managed to drop the plane straight down, I don’t see how he managed that. There were junipers all around the plane and none were broken, only the ones directly above the plane.