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Friends continue search for two missing men and their plane

'We're looking for something that probably doesn't look like an airplane,' pilot says

BRIGHAM CITY — It's been one week since a plane carrying two men went missing in northern Utah.

But friends of Denny Mansell, 71, and passenger Peter Ellis, 74, say they are not giving up looking.

"They're like family. These guys are husbands, they have wives, they're fathers, they have kids, they're grandpas, they have grandkids. They're just stellar people," John Malmberg, president of the Hill Flying Club and a friend of both men, said Friday.

On Dec. 29, Mansell, the pilot, and Ellis took off from the Ogden-Hinckley Airport in Mansell's Cessna 172. Their plan was to fly the Promontory Point area, take pictures of the winter steam engine festival at the Golden Spike historic site, then return to the airport about an hour later, according to the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office.

But whether they made it to Golden Spike or decided to fly to other areas afterward was still unknown Friday.

The Weber County Sheriff's Office, Utah Department of Public Safety and Civil Air Patrol have all assisted in the search, as well as the 100 members of the Hill Flying Club — the flying club that both Mansell and Ellis are members of.

Maimberg said in the past week his group, and even private pilots, have searched the south tip of the Promontory Point area extensively, as well as surrounding areas stretching from the Pocatello Valley, Malad Valley, Hansel Valley, Sardine Canyon, Trapper's Loop, North Ogden Canyon and Weber Canyon.

"We've put a lot of man hours, a lot of airplane hours, searching down low, looking in every canyon and crevasse we can," he said. "We don't do it haphazardly. We fly where we have had some information that a possibility where they're going to be and then we fly it in a grid manner. … Problem is, we're looking for something that probably doesn't look like an airplane."

Recently, the club received a tip that the plane was spotted flying a week ago near Malad, Idaho. On Friday, Maimberg said he was going to fly the shoreline on the north end of the Great Salt Lake. At the same time, he said Weber County sheriff's search and rescue crews were using boats equipped with sonar in the same area to search.

Mansell was a very experienced pilot with more than 45 years of flying, Maimberg said.

"Both of them were capable of flying that airplane, and Denny could fly it as well as anyone around," he said.

But Maimberg's personal theory is the plane may have been caught in a strong down-draft that slammed them to the ground.

He said it's doubtful at this point that the men survived.

Maimberg is encouraging recreationists in northern Utah who are out hiking, target shooting or hunting to keep their eyes open.

"If they see something out of the ordinary — a burn scar, a little burn scar could be 6 to 8 feet around if they went in hard," he said. "Or just a little field of debris. But I think what we're looking for is something that doesn't look like an airplane, so it makes it even tougher."

It's important, Maimberg said, to find the remains of the men to give closure to the family.

"You can replace an airplane. You just can't replace people. It's the part of not being able to tell their families where they're at or what's happened that's the tough part," he said.