The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Bonnie Davidson
The Courier 

Rising From The Ashes

Book Focused On The Search, The Victims, Those Who Helped After Plane Crash


For The Courier

Like a nightmare that just doesn't shake off, tragedy strikes and the natural response is to wonder why. One local family faced a tragedy that faced national attention just over a year ago today. The Chalmers lost Sheree Chalmers Smith to a plane crash, along with her husband, Daniel Smith, her sister-in-law, Amber Smith, Amber's fiance Jonathan Norton and her father-in-law, Dale Smith.

The plane went down in Idaho, in the rugged terrain located near McCall in what is known at the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. They had just spent time together in Oregon for Thanksgiving and the pilot, Dale, was heading towards Butte to drop off Daniel and Sheree. The plane was lost in the snow for several weeks and was finally found on Jan. 10 last year – the last day a search party would be able to continue until spring.

Three families came together with many locals. Several resources were used to hunt for the plane and satellite photos had several tech savvy people searching grids in hopes of spotting anything irregular. Dale's mother, Frances Smith-Phillips, ended up piecing all the events of the search and the people they would meet and what it meant into a book. That book, "The Search For Dale's Plane: Finding Spiritual Meaning in the Wake of Tragedy" was released recently.

She explained that the idea of a book formed during the massive funeral that was held in California. She said that the family wanted to write a history and get together an account of the family members lost and what happened. While she gathered information, she realized that even in tragedy that they were able to count their blessings and find things that were a blessing.

"It wasn't about the plane crash, I was focused on how it changed our lives," Phillips said.

Coming from a religious family, part of the Church of Latter-day Saints, she felt that God was with them throughout their journey. Weaved throughout several first hand accounts of the search and the facts of the;plane crash she talks a little bit about how God protected her and her family from some of the physical and emotional trauma that they went through.

"It was almost an out of body experience at times," Phillips said. "We've had confirmations over time and I felt that we were very protected."

She said that Dale's wife, Janis Smith, was very strong in the aftermath as they waited for the plane to return. She ended up sending her two younger sons home on a commercial flight as she headed towards the possible crash site in the first few weeks. She had just finished going through chemotherapy treatments with her daughter. The book accounts in detail how they set up operations and communication lines as national media swarmed around the incident.

She said she rewrote the book a few times trying to get it right. She struggled getting the other perspectives into the book, but ended up learning about parts of the search that she wasn't aware of. While it was reliving the tragedy she said that she also got to relive the good parts of it. She said that while writing the book she realized how communications from the tiny town of Yellow Pine were nearly impossible at times. Knowing the full accounts of what happened and the people that volunteered to search gave her a different outlook.

"As I learned about all the efforts to find my family I felt overwhelmed and grateful," Phillips said.

While the first week local and state officials stepped into help in the search. The following search parties were all volunteers. Two mountain men in particular she mentions in the book helped with the search and put themselves in danger looking for the lost plane and the family members in it. Phillips said that some of the people that participated in the search are now lifelong friends.

The impact of the crash has changed the lives and decisions of the family. Dale's brother, Dellon Smith, was also a full-time pilot in Alaska and was the main coordinator for the search that continued. Phillips explained that he recently left that career and moved to Boise, Idaho.

"We all made decisions and made family priority with life changes and experience," Phillips said.

Barry Chalmers commented that here in Glasgow the family is doing as well as could be expected. He explained that the community really has stepped up and been extremely supportive through the experience. He said that he didn't believe it was God's will that a tragic accident occurred, but he does believe that all they can do is move forward into the future.

Chalmers joined the search party in the first few weeks and explained that there was nearly 5 feet of snow in places. Too deep for snow mobiles and very difficult to trek through. He spent a week in the search. He wasn't able to go the second search trip in January of last year, but he said the snow had melted in the weeks before that created conditions for the plane to be found.

He was home the morning the plane was found. He consulted by phone that day before they headed out. He thanked the people in Idaho, the people in Glasgow who helped the family gather snow gear for the trip, and the people in Butte who helped retrieve the vehicle were all a big help.

"We were very fortunate, we were lucky to get together that second search," Chalmers said. "It's remarkable that happened like it did."

Phillips' book can be found on Amazon. She said she wanted to write 25 years ago, but she wanted to write children's books and had sold a few short stories. But life got in the way and put her in a different direction. This book is her first book.


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