Bucklin plane found in Wyo.; all 4 died on impact

Luke Bucklin and three of his sons apparently died on impact when their single-engine aircraft went down in a remote area. A special team hopes to begin recovering the bodies Wednesday.

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Nate, Noah, Nick and Luke Bucklin

For a week, friends and relatives of the Bucklin family held onto the thin hope that Luke Bucklin and three of his sons survived when their plane went down in the mountains of Wyoming.

But as word spread Tuesday that searchers found wreckage of a crash no one could have survived, vigils turned to prayer and grief.

Killed were pilot Bucklin, 40, twins Nick and Nate, 14, and Noah, 12. The news drew people to the Bucklins' church for an evening community prayer service. The Rev. John Sommerville and his young Minneapolis congregation known as City Church have rallied around the family.

"It's been a very anxious week," said Sommerville.

Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker confirmed that the wreckage of the single-engine plane and its occupants were found late Monday in the primary search area east of the Continental Divide.

The four were killed "upon impact," said Ernie Over, a spokesman for the search operation in Lander. "The crash was not survivable."

The crash site was about a mile east of the aircraft's last known location, near Indian Pass at an elevation of about 11,100 feet.

An extrication crew and tools were dispatched to help recover the bodies, Over said. But first, crash investigators must collect evidence that might help determine why the plane went down. That means recovering the bodies could be a task that stretches into Wednesday, he said.

"The plane hit in a boulder field, and [the debris] was fairly contained in one spot," Over said. "It hit straight in," with no fire, though it left Jackson Hole, Wyo., full of fuel.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Luke, Nate, Nick and Noah," the family said in a statement. "We look to God as our refuge and strength and trust him to carry us through the painful days ahead."

City Church youth minister Tim Schuster said he would plan a special memorial for the boys as he prepares to steer his youth group of 20 to 25 kids through the loss of three members.

"I feel like I have a new job description now," said Schuster.

"Noah had a lot of energy," Schuster said. "Good energy."

He recalled the younger Bucklin as someone who smiled easily, who liked one pair of black tennis shoes so much that he wore them for the past two years. He and Nick were football players, while Nate played ultimate Frisbee with an informal group Sunday afternoons at Armatage School, Schuster said.

Just two weeks ago he took Nate to lunch at Subway, then the two watched YouTube videos in the City Church offices.

"He had just shown me some videos about Parkour," said Schuster, talking about the French-inspired sport that's part gymnastics, part urban running. "He said, 'You don't know about this? You have to see this!'"

The boys had once loaded their own YouTube video that -- through their own special effects -- made it appear they moved books with a magic wand.

"They had that kind of creative talent," said Sommerville with a chuckle.

Tech entrepreneur

Luke Bucklin founded local tech company Sierra Bravo in 2003. He told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that he and two others started the business with $165. Its revenues neared $10 million last year, when Bucklin made the Journal's "40 under 40" list of the area's top young business and civic leaders.

Sierra Bravo Chief Financial Officer Mike Derheim posted a note Tuesday on the company blog, with links to past Bucklin memos and a video from a day Bucklin wore a tux to the office only to get a pie thrown in his face for a charity fundraiser.

"Whether you knew Luke or not, I hope knowing more about the kind of person he was makes you smile," wrote Derheim. "His humanity can't help but poke through even the darkest clouds. As brave a face as we try to put on, we'll not be the same without Luke. But we will honor his legacy, always, and we'll follow his lead by living up to the example he set for all of us. Thank you for keeping Luke's family and friends in your thoughts and prayers."

Bucklin and his former wife, Michelle, had six children. The three who remain are Sarah, 19, Sami, 16, and Oliver, 5. Luke Bucklin also is survived by his wife, Ginger.

Recovery effort

The wreckage was in a small, steep drainage on the side of a mountain, the Sheriff's Office said. A three-person ground search team -- all technical mountaineers -- traversing down and from above, spotted the wreckage, partly covered with snow.

Nine aircraft and 13 ground teams were used in the seven-day search.

The family statement characterized as "our heroes ... the incredibly courageous search team, men and women, who have worked tirelessly over the past week to find our boys. Our gratitude for their efforts is infinite, and we ask that everyone pray for their continued safety as the mission draws to a close."

On Monday, highly skilled technical mountaineers scaled some of the toughest terrain in the state, "going up the sides of these high ridges and peaks and looking in couloirs and crevices," Over said Monday, before the discovery.

The Bucklin plane was returning to the Twin Cities after a family vacation in Jackson Hole. Coroner Ed McAuslan said that once the bodies are recovered, they will be taken to the county morgue in Lander for autopsy.

pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 mckinney@startribune.com • 612-217-1747

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