On June 27, a small plane went missing near Glacier. Word spread quickly the following day that four western Montana residents were aboard the aircraft: Sonny Kless, 25, a recent graduate of the University of Montana's environmental studies program and the plane's pilot; Brian Williams, 28, a UM law student, Melissa Weaver, 23, a recent UM journalism school graduate, and Erika Hoefer, 27, Weaver's co-worker at the Daily Inter Lake in Whitefish.
With still no news of the plane's whereabouts by early June 30, dozens of classmates and friends of the two men and two women made their way to a command center at the National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge to assist in the search.
"We can't just sit on a couch while a friend is missing," said one of Williams' classmates, explaining why he and some other law students joined the effort. The classmates preferred not to give their names out of a desire to keep the story focused on the missing.
Their impromptu search focused on a road leading from Perma to a lookout just north of the river where the plane had been seen. Figuring the spot would provide a vantage point to scan the terrain with binoculars, they drove 45 minutes over the winding, bumpy road until they reached a gate. Beyond the gate stood three men, drenched in sweat, tired, hungry, and out of water. After three days of searching, the plane had been found, one of the men said, but there was no word on survivors. The three men asked for a ride down the mountain to the bison refuge.
On the way back, one of Williams' classmates said the car was silent. The three men looked out the window or held their heads. Eventually, someone worked up the nerve to ask how the men knew the plane's occupants.
"The pilot is my brother," Dustin Haines replied.
As the car pulled into the bison refuge, a National Guard chopper arrived followed closely by a search and rescue helicopter. The families of those aboard the plane stood together and waited for the paramedics to tell them the fate of their children. They followed the paramedics into the visitor center while a crowd lingered in the sunshine. Finally, the door opened. As people stepped out, everyone was crying. It was all Williams' classmates needed to see. They got back into the car and began the long drive back to Missoula. Again, it was silent.