The bodies of two elderly brothers whose plane crashed on the eastern slope of Howell Mountain were recovered Tuesday morning.

Five volunteers from the Park County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team (SAR) were dropped off by helicopter onto the mountain about 7 a.m. Tuesday. The team recovered the bodies about 9:30 a.m.

Robert L. Zimmerman, 84, of Huntsville, Ala., and Ward H. Zimmerman, 86, of Seattle, Wash., departed Yellowstone Regional Airport in their Mooney M20C airplane at 11:30 a.m. May 6. They were reported missing by family members Saturday, May 10.

A helicopter search by SAR located the wreckage on the mountain about 4.5 miles south of US 14-16-20 and west of Camp Buffalo Bill BSA on May 12. But tests by SAR determined the snowpack above the plane was unstable and posed a risk of avalanche too high to attempt to reach the plane.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward surveyed the scene from the air Monday and decided to send in the team the next day.

“Park County should be extremely proud of these volunteers,” Steward said. “I consider them one of the best, if not the top, search and rescue unit in the state. It is unfortunate we had to wait as long as we did to get the victims out, but I could not send our folks into (that) extremely dangerous avalanche situation, so I made the call to wait until the conditions were safe. The families understood our decision.”

Both victims were recovered, still in their seats. Though it appears both died on impact, an autopsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of death.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the plane was registered to Robert Zimmerman though Ward Zimmerman was at the controls at the time of the crash.

An examination of the crash site determined the plane hit the mountain about 300 feet from the peak and slid down to the site where it was found.

Final disposition of the wreckage has yet to be determined.

(Steve Browne can be reached at

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