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SALT LAKE CITY — For the families of five people lost in a plane crash in a remote area of Idaho, the hardest part of the search so far is the uncertainty.
"The hardest part is not knowing if they're alive, and if they are, they're suffering," said Matt Dayton, who has spent the past few days aiding in the search for his nephew and the people who were with him when the plane lost contact Sunday.
Aboard were Dayton's nephew, Jonathan Norton, and his fiancée, Amber Smith, as well as her brother and sister-in-law.
Searchers have been combing the area near Yellow Pine, Idaho, ever since the pilot, Smith's father, Dale, reported to a Salt Lake City tower that he was having engine trouble and needed directions to the Johnson Creek landing strip. They were travelling from Baker City, Ore., to Butte, Mont.
Volunteers and experienced searchers alike will return again Thursday, more than 90 strong, in the largest effort yet, Dayton said.
"There are a couple teams from Boise that are experts and brought climbing and mountain rescue (gear) to kind of the rookies," Dayton said. "We've got the whole spectrum. We're hoping that (Thursday) maybe we can find something."
But temperatures are down to single digits in the mountainous area.
"We're holding out hope. There have been several other stories in similar situations and people have survived," Dayton said. "But we understand what the cold does, and the longer this goes on, it turns into a dire situation."
Norton and Amber Smith are both accounting majors set to graduate next year from BYU-Idaho. They're scheduled to be married Jan. 4. Dayton received the wedding invitation Monday, shortly after he learned about the crash.
Dale Smith's wife, Janis, said Wednesday her family has been amazed at the outpouring of love and faith.
"We are indebted to the search and rescue crews working long, cold days in the rugged terrain of the search area," she said. "We appreciate the resources being pulled in as the search continues for our family."
Their families stretch from Norton's home in Wisconsin to Amber Smith's family in California, as well as relatives in Utah. Across several states and different faiths, family members and friends who are searching are united in prayer with those waiting anxiously at home, Dayton said.
"We've got Lutherans praying, Mormons praying, Catholics praying, and I've got many friends of different religions who have been sending prayers throughout the day," Dayton said. "The religion doesn't matter at this point. As long as they're praying, that's the key."
Contributing: Devon Dolan