By BEN NEARY, Associated Press Writer
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The search for a plane carrying a Minneapolis executive and three of his children missing in the rugged mountains of western Wyoming continued Thursday even as high winds hampered efforts.
Officials had hoped a plane equipped with sensitive detection equipment would hear a signal from the missing plane's locater beacon. Ernie Over, a spokesman for search operations in Lander, said late Thursday that the special search plane had found nothing definitive. He said incident commanders plan more flights Friday.
Searchers have been looking since Tuesday for a single-engine plane carrying Luke Bucklin, 41, and the three boys. Their single-engine, 1977 Mooney propeller plane left the Jackson airport at about noon Monday in a snowstorm and disappeared from radar an hour later over the craggy Wind River Range.
The search is concentrating on about 9 square miles near Gannett Peak, Wyoming's tallest mountain at just over 13,800 feet. Although conditions have been clear in recent days, forecasters say more snow is likely in the area over the weekend.
Teams of mountaineers have been helicoptering in and out of the area to search on the ground. More mountaineers joined the search Thursday, bringing the total to nine on the ground - eight men and one woman.
Many of the mountaineers searching on the ground are associated with the National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander.
"The ground teams have struggled searching drainages containing deep snow and boulders, so we're taking two of the teams out tonight for rest and they'll go back in Friday morning," Fremont County sheriff's Sgt. Ryan Lee said in a news release.
Over said there were three helicopters and an airplane searching Thursday.
The search area is within the Fitzpatrick Wilderness Area, about 20 miles from the nearest highway. The mountains there are extremely rugged and officials say the search area is among the most remote spots in the continental United States.
While nighttime temperatures have been dipping below freezing in the search area, officials still regard the search as a rescue mission, not merely a recovery operation.
"This is still a rescue mission at this point and we're focusing on that," said Incident Commander Chip Williams stated in a news release. He said extremely windy conditions Thursday afternoon limited some air operations.
Luke Bucklin, 41, and his sons, 14-year-old twins Nate and Nick, and 12-year-old Noah, were in Jackson on a family vacation.
Bonnie Harris, a family friend of Luke Bucklin and his wife, Ginger Bucklin, said the family had been in Wyoming for a wedding and family vacation. Ginger Bucklin and the couple's youngest son flew home separately on a commercial flight, Harris said.
Luke Bucklin is president and co-founder of the Bloomington, Minn.-based Web development company Sierra Bravo Corp.
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