Authorities have discovered the wreckage of a small plane buried in snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California and the bodies of a couple missing for more than a month inside it. Sierra County sheriff's officials say a snowmobiler found a piece of the plane's tail near Yuba Pass, the AP reports. Searchers last Thursday located the separated cockpit buried in nearly 7 feet of snow, with Mark and Brenda Richard inside. The single-engine plane departed April 17 from the Truckee Tahoe Airport near the Nevada border. Relatives had reported the Santa Rosa couple missing after the plane didn't land as planned at the Petaluma Municipal Airport north of San Francisco.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat says that at the time of the Richards' late-afternoon takeoff on April 17, the mercury was hovering at around 40 degrees, with wind gusts measuring at more than 20mph. Sierra County Sheriff Tim Standley says it appears the plane hit a tree, then broke apart, and that centrifugal force hurled the cockpit and engine into powdery snow, which was then covered by harder, icier snow from subsequent storms. The search effort had been called off on April 23. "Our hearts go out" to the couple's family and friends, Standley says, adding, "It's a great tragedy." The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and autopsies on the couple are being conducted. (Read more plane crash stories.)