ELKO — Photos taken by an aerial imagery company whose plane was lost in the Ruby Mountains may have revealed its location, the Elko County Sheriff’s Office reported Jan. 19.
Air America/Eagle View worked in cooperation with the county in the search for its employee.
“We believe we have possibly, possibly, we’ve located it, and we’re going to attempt to try to retrieve the pilot and the plane when the weather clears, hopefully real soon,” Sgt. Nick Czegledi said.
A twin-engine Piper PA23 disappeared from radar Jan. 11 about 37 miles south-southeast of Elko after the pilot reported icy conditions at about 8:30 p.m. The plane, with the aircraft tail number N54857, was flying from McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California, to Salt Lake City, according to Federal Aviation Administration Pacific Region Public Affairs Manager Ian Gregor. Paul R. Graham, the 26-year-old pilot from Mississippi, was the only person onboard.
The county worked with the pilot’s employer, Air America/Eagle View, to conduct aerial photography of the area during the search, which has been pursued over approximately the past week as weather safely allowed. The private partner took pictures of the terrain then sent them to its parent company for analysis. On the morning of Jan. 19, the company reported to the sheriff that it had possibly identified the location of the plane in the mountains south of Harrison Pass on the east slope near Pearl Peak, Czegledi said.
“We have a possible location,” Elko County Undersheriff Ron Supp said. “It’s real preliminary at this point.”
Czegledi said he is cautious to believe the report “until we touch it.”
Retrieval, however, is hampered by the wintery weather that rolled into the area Friday, delivering inches of snow and icy conditions in even the lower elevations around Elko and Spring Creek. The Ruby Mountains contain peaks up to 11,388 feet high with rugged terrain.
“We are not going to be able to get to it for an undetermined [amount of time],” Supp said.
On Jan. 18, Czegledi said he called off a temporary flight restriction, originally scheduled through Jan. 20, because of the incoming weather that would interfere with continuation of the search.
“I stopped [it] last night not because they had found it but because of the weather,” Czegledi said.
The TFR was necessary to conduct a methodical search and “control the amount of people wanting to come out and fly,” he said, explaining that too many volunteer search aircraft sometimes fly on top of each other.
Preliminary accident and report data is not yet listed on the FAA website because the plane is still considered missing, Gregor said. If and when wreckage is found, the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.
“The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the pilot’s family for their patience and understanding during a very trying time,” the Sheriff’s Office stated in a press release. “The Sheriff’s Office would also like to thank Air America/Eagle View, Nevada Division of Emergency Management, the Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Military agencies, the Elko County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue volunteers and Utah Air Resources (a volunteer air search and rescue organization) as well as other volunteers and government agencies providing assistance.”