FILLMORE — Searchers on Sunday found the wreckage of a small plane that had disappeared a week ago after refueling in Fillmore.
Three bodies were recovered from the plane after it was spotted at 8:15 a.m., according to Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ted Tingey. It was located about 15 miles outside of Fillmore.
Searchers from Utah, Colorado and Wyoming had been attempting to locate a Piper Archer II every day since it disappeared Nov. 25, said Steve Miller of the Utah wing of the Civil Air Patrol. The wreckage was spotted Sunday from a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter.
The plane, piloted by Matthew Ahrens, 37, took off from Bakersfield, Calif., en route to Gillette, Wyo., where the pilot and his two passengers lived. The passengers were Trista Meyer, 34, and 9-year-old Shyann Lenz. Meyer is Lenz's mother and Ahrens' girlfriend, family members said.
There were also two dogs on the airplane.
Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis said the airplane was found in the north fork of Chalk Creek and responders were able to locate all three victims. Their bodies were taken to Richfield before being transported to the state medical examiner's office to determine the cause of death.
The three had been visiting Ahrens' family in Bakersfield for the Thanksgiving holiday. Ahrens is a Bakersfield native described by family members as an experienced pilot.
Shyann's father, Mark Lenz, said he was informed Sunday that the airplane had been found. He became emotional as he confirmed that no one survived the crash.
"I talked to a police officer on the scene that was bringing my baby in from the cold," he said. "We're not sure of the details yet of what happened, reports are still coming in, but they are gone."
He said his family was struggling in the wake of the news and called the crash a "tragic loss" of three good people. The discovery marked the end of days of uncertainty for the family of those who were killed.
"They're in God's care now, so we don't have to worry about them anymore," Lenz said. "We don't have to worry about them being cold and we don't have to worry about them being out there anymore. They're on their way home."
Lenz's emotions continued to affect him as he extended his gratitude to those who helped search for the plane.
"Everybody that spent so much time out there looking for them, I just want to tell you that I can't thank you enough for everything you've done, because you guys have put your lives on hold to try to bring these people home and that's something we will never forget and that's something that we can never repay you for," he said.
The cause of the crash is unknown.
"They were just about clear at the top of the mountain," Curtis said. "I don't know if they got disoriented or couldn't get enough altitude. I don't know what it is."
The sheriff's office will assist the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration in their investigation of the crash.
The airplane did not have a radio beacon on board and there was not a flight plan for the flight. Curtis said the airplane was also not on radar at the time it went down.
Contributing: Dan Jessop
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company