Parkview graduate missing in Montana

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Associated Press and Gazette staff
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
— Friends and family hold out hope an Orfordville Parkview graduate is safe after a plane she was in went missing in northwestern Montana.

The search continues for four people i n c l u d i n g Erika Hoefer, 27, a rural Beloit native and reporter for the Daily Inter Lake newspaper in K a l i s p e l l , Mont. Others on board include fellow reporter Melissa Weaver, friend Brian Williams and pilot Sonny Kless of Missoula.

Hoefer was salutatorian of Parkview’s 2001 graduating class, participating in multiple bands and choirs and serving as a class officer, according to Gazette archives. Hoefer also played basketball, earned Rock Valley Academic All-Conference honors and qualified for the state track meet.

Hoefer started work at the Beloit Daily News after graduating with academic honors in spring 2005 from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Her parents, Bill and Candy Hoefer, are in Montana awaiting word on the search. Bill Hoefer is a retired Beloit Fire Department lieutenant, Assistant Fire Chief Tim Curtis said.

Members of the fire department have been in contact with Hoefer’s family, Curtis said.

“We’re hoping and praying that everything turns out OK,” he said.

Authorities said Tuesday the rented 1968 blue-andwhite Piper Arrow may have been flying too low when last seen near the Flathead River in northwestern Montana.

Federal Aviation Administration radar data put the plane’s altitude at 300 feet when it was last tracked west of the 18,500-acre National Bison Range. Several witnesses told searchers they believe it was flying even lower than that, said Lake County sheriff’s spokeswoman Carey Cooley.

“Five hundred feet is the absolute minimum, and that’s like in the middle of Kansas with nothing around,” said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus. “If he’s flying 300 feet above the ground, that’s illegal.”

The bison range is 80 miles south of Kalispell, and the Flathead River runs to the west, a large, braided waterway with steep hills nearby. Searchers launched four sonar-equipped boats into the river and were searching the brushy islands that dot it. Nine planes and two helicopters were searching from the air, Cooley said.

The missing plane took off Sunday afternoon for a sightseeing trip. FAA radar data showed the airplane traveled from Kalispell north along the Whitefish Range, entered Glacier National Park airspace, then headed south along the Swan Mountain Range, across Flathead Lake to the bison range, Flathead County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ernie Freebury said.

Several witnesses in the area reportedly saw a low-flying blue-and-white plane near the Flathead River, Cooley said. The witnesses said the plane did not appear to be experiencing mechanical problems.

Last updated: 1:58 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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