Lincoln County authorities returned to the site of a fatal plane crash on Swede Mountain outside of Libby on Thursday morning and retrieved the remains of the pilot and passenger, who were traveling to the area for a company Christmas party.

The small private aircraft crashed into the remote mountainside late Tuesday night, killing the pilot, Stinger Welding Inc. CEO Carl Douglas, 54, of Coolidge, Ariz., and John Smith, 43, also of Coolidge and an employee of Stinger, one of the area’s largest employers.

Members of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and volunteers from David Thompson Search and Rescue drove snowmobiles to the crash site at dawn Thursday and recovered the remains, according to Lincoln County Undersheriff Brent Faulkner.

The twin-engine Beachcraft was located Wednesday night in a remote area south of Swede Mountain. Searchers found the plane in a large debris field about three miles northeast of the Libby Area Airport.

Douglas and Smith had departed Coolidge about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe said, and were scheduled to arrive at the Libby Area Airport just after midnight. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that colleagues reported Douglas missing.

Sheriff’s deputies and searchers were dispatched to the area Wednesday, and a Montana Aeronautics craft from Helena and a local pilot flew over the site. The Montana Aeronautics craft located the wreckage by following the signal from an emergency locator transmitter.

Ground searchers on snowmobiles drove into the area and located the plane about 8 p.m. Wednesday, Bowe said. The sheriff’s office and county coroner returned Thursday to recover the bodies of Douglas and Smith, which will be transported to the state Crime Lab in Missoula for autopsy.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, Bowe said, but no information about what caused the plane to crash is available this early.

The CEO of Stinger Welding since it was founded in 1996, Douglas and his company received a $17 million financing package last year, with the help of the Missoula-based Montana Community Development Corp., the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Stinger Welding is a fabricator of major steel and bridge components.

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 531-9745 or at

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