A plane carrying five family members vanished in 1960 after leaving Burley. How the story ends might surprise you. - East Idaho News
Looking Back

A plane carrying five family members vanished in 1960 after leaving Burley. How the story ends might surprise you.

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BURLEY — A plane scheduled to fly from Burley to Las Vegas in 1960 disappeared and prompted a search, but how the story ends is nothing short of miraculous.

The story on the missing plane with five family members on board was featured in our weekly Looking Back column, which looks back on what life was like during certain time periods in east Idaho history.

Family leaves Burley on plane, never makes it to final destination

A plane was scheduled to fly from Burley to Las Vegas when it disappeared, the Idaho State Journal reported on March 14, 1960.

The plane was carrying five members of the same family including Wes Stoddard, a 50-year-old ‘Alaskan bush pilot,’ his wife, Helen, 49, their 28-year-old daughter Mrs. Horace Cumbie and her 6-year-old son, Randy, and Stoddard’s aunt, Mrs. Joseph V. Lee, 65, of Heyburn.

“Stoddard, his wife, daughter and grandson left Anchorage last Monday on a family visiting excursion,” the Journal said. “Mrs. Lee, of nearby Heyburn, joined the family flight at Burley. They were eventually going to visit (Stoddard’s) mother and some brothers who live in Arizona.”

Stoddard was described as “an experienced pilot” who operated his own flying service at Merrill Field near Anchorage.

“He filed a flight plan for Las Vegas by way of Ely, Nevada, and took off from Burley at 9:50 a.m. Sunday but was never heard from again,” the Journal explained. “He had six hours of fuel. His estimated flight time was three hours.”

What happened to the family?

The Idaho Falls Post Register shared an article from the Associated Press on March 17, 1960, that explained the two-engine Piper-Apache plane crash-landed near Ely, Nevada. Stoddard was flying the plane when a “downdraft smacked them down on a mountain slope during a snowstorm.”

“The five survived 42 hours of sub-zero weather before rescuers reached them,” the article states.

The plane was spotted by Civil Air Patrol Maj. Carl Ooley, of Ely, according to The San Francisco Examiner. Then, two skiers — Bill Kohlmoos and John Barainca — “struggled up the mountain through deep snow, over rocks and across ice” to get to the family to help them.

“They used snowshoes for most of their trip and had to crawl on their stomachs for the last quarter mile,” the paper said about the skiers.

“We gave them shots of morphine,” Kohlmoos said. “After we got them settled, Stoddard turned to me and said, ‘I’ve gone out on dozens of these searches in Alaska looking for downed planes but this is the first time I was on the other end of the deal.'”

Kohlmoos said it was 15 degrees below zero, the wind was terrible and the snow was deep. The family members were all eventually taken off the mountain by a helicopter.

“They were chilled and dazed by their ordeal,” The San Francisco Examiner stated. “The boy was unhurt and though the adults received injuries, they were in good condition.”

A day later, the Post Register reported more information on the condition of the family members. Helen had been “the most seriously injured.” She was scheduled to fly to Salt Lake City “for treatment of a broken back.” Her husband suffered a fractured vertebrae and doctors said he might have to wear a cast or brace for several months.

“The Stoddards were the most seriously hurt,” the Post Register said. “The others suffered only exposure.”

Rescuers said it was Stoddard’s “Arctic training which pulled them through.”

Lee was released from the hospital that Wednesday and left for her home. Cumbie’s husband flew in from Alaska to be with his wife and son.