By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The wreckage of an airplane spotted in the Gros Ventre drainage this past weekend was from a crash more than 30 years ago, authorities said.
Hunters reported finding the collapsed but largely intact airplane late Friday night, according to Tim Ciorcarlan, search and rescue aviation advisor for Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR), who led the recovery mission Saturday morning.
The hunters had taken photographs of the fuselage and wings that were buried under a mound of snow, Ciorcarlan said, and the search crew had little to go on after research yielded no evidence of any missing airplanes or recent plane crashes in the area.
The TCSAR crew of staff and volunteers ascended the steep 3,000-foot, heavily timbered Crystal Butte, about three miles outside Jackson, where they found the wreckage.
“It looked like a flattened beer can,” Ciorcarlan said. “The whole plane was there, but it was really smushed. Like it pancaked from the sky, nose down. You can see the wings and fuselage, but it was smashed really badly.”
His crew was able to straighten the wreckage enough to discern the airplane’s tail number.
It turned out the airplane, a Mooney M20F, had crashed in August 1988 during the peak of the fires in Yellowstone, killing both the pilot and passenger.
According to the report by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), the plane had been climbing at 11,000 feet through thick smoke from area forest fires shortly after leaving Jackson Hole when it hit two trees and plunged to the ground. Pilot Robert Yoreck, 50, and his passenger both died on impact.
Loss of control, collision with mountainous/hilly terrain were listed as the probable cause of the crash.
Though the bodies had been removed and the incident well reported, the debris remained on site in well preserved condition, its windscreen remaining crystal clear and its paint showing little evidence of fading in the sun.
The crash seems to have been largely forgotten by members of law enforcement and the local aviation community. Ciorcarlan, who has responded to every airplane crash report in Teton County since 1993, had no knowledge of the crash before climbing the butte Saturday.
It turns out, the hunters Friday were not the first group to report the wreckage.
It turns out it had been reported by hunters about two decades after it occurred.
“This plane should not have been a mystery,” Dave Hodges, a Teton County Sheriff’s Office detective who was on the search, told Cowboy State Daily Wednesday.
“It had crashed in 1988 and was reported at the time,” he said. “Both the pilot and passenger died and were recovered. All done. But somehow, through the little cracks in the system, it was forgotten about. It was again reported in 2008 by hunters. But once more slipped through the system.”
Authorities thought the report made Friday might involve a new crash, Hodges said, because the initial information was vague.
“The preliminary input was insufficient to the point no prior historical contacts were revealed,” he said. “It was only when we returned from the crash site and sat down at the computer, now armed with more exact data, that it was revealed in the TCSO historical data base.”
It’s not clear why the plane has been left on the mountain.
That decision to remove debris is typically left up to either the owner and/or insurance company, according to Keith Holloway, media representative for the NTSB, who said his agency does not participate in the removal of aircraft debris.
This time, however, Ciorcarlan said searchers painted a big yellow “x” on the airplane’s fuselage with a date of the crash to indicate the crash has been investigated.
He and the volunteers were nonplussed about the steep hike or unnecessary recon work on their part.
“It really is a nothing burger, so to speak,” he said. “We just went for a walk.”