Jun 28, 2010 10:20 PM by Chris Welty
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Authorities were searching Monday for a
single-engine airplane carrying four people, including two Montana
newspaper reporters, that took off on a sightseeing tour the day
before and did not return.
The 1968 Piper airplane departed from Kalispell City Airport on
Sunday afternoon with Sonny Kless, the Missoula man who rented the
plane, and his passengers: two reporters for the Daily Inter Lake
newspaper of Kalispell - Melissa Weaver and Erika Hoefer - and a
man identified by newspaper, citing the Flathead County Sheriff's
Office, as Brian Williams of Missoula.
Weaver's roommate contacted the Flathead County Sheriff's Office
and other agencies on Monday morning when Weaver had not returned
or left a message.
Rick Weaver, publisher of the Daily Inter Lake, said the
reporters were going on a sightseeing trip to Glacier National Park
about 30 miles northeast of Kalispell.
"They were on their day off and just having fun," said Weaver,
who is not related to Melissa Weaver. "We're just hoping for the
absolute best. We hope that they're found, and everybody's OK."
Because of information received from radar and cell phone
tracking, the search had shifted Monday evening to the National
Bison Range south of Flathead Lake near Moiese, said Debbie Alke,
administrator for Aeronautics Division of the state Department of
Federal Aviation Administration radar data showed the plane
traveled north along the Whitefish Range, entered Glacier National
Park airspace, then headed south along the Swan Mountain Range,
across Flathead Lake to the 18,500-acre bison range about 80 miles
south of Kalispell, Flathead County Sheriff's Sgt. Ernie Freebury
told the Daily Inter Lake.
Alke said searchers would expand outward from that last known
location, but were hindered by a lack of a flight plan.
The bison range is in Sanders County. Undersheriff Rube
Wrightsman said the search said county search and rescue
authorities have been alerted but he had no further information.
Hoefer last updated her Facebook page about 10 minutes after
taking off with a message reading, "We're flying to the park and
we're later going to a barbecue," Sheriff Mike Meehan said.
Kless last made radio contact with the tower at Glacier Park
International Airport at 2:11 p.m., about 40 minutes after takeoff,
reporting that the plane was east of Kalispell, traveling north.
At least one text message was exchanged between Weaver and
Hoefer's cell phones about an hour after that last contact, and a
sheriff's detective was pursuing a subpoena to access that message
from a server.
A state airplane checked wilderness airstrips after noon,
Freebury told the Daily Inter Lake. The Montana Civil Air Patrol
joined the search along with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The search area is very large and while the plane has a
transponder on board, it's an old one, Meehan said. "You would
have to fly almost directly over it to make contact, and that's a
Freebury said officials also were analyzing radar data from Salt
Lake City and cell-phone tower information.
The tail number on the airplane was registered to Joel Woodruff
of Stevensville. A message left at a number listed for Woodruff was
not immediately returned Monday evening.
Melissa Weaver, 23, is a police and courts reporter for the
Daily Inter Lake. Her parents live in Billings and were headed to
Kalispell, Rick Weaver said.
Hoefer, 27, is a business reporter for the newspaper who also
writes for the Flathead Business Journal. She is from Beloit, Wis.
Both reporters began working for the newspaper at the end of