BILLINGS – A student pilot whose plane crashed into a snowy mountainside during a training flight survived overnight by wrapping himself in a tarp and then hiked out a mile through waist-deep snow to meet rescuers, authorities said Wednesday.
The plane went down late Tuesday in a forested slope on Big Pryor Mountain, about 40 miles south of Billings. The unnamed student from Rocky Mountain College was rescued at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, about a mile from the crash site.
“He ended up hiking quite a ways in his shorts and tennis shoes, in waist-high snow. He was very cold and cut up by the time we found a place to land and could hike into him,” said Jon Trapp with Carbon County Search and Rescue.
The student had stayed with his wrecked plane — a 2006 Piper — through the night and then started to hike out after he was spotted by rescue planes Wednesday morning, said Trapp, who was part of the group of rescuers that first met the student.
With overnight temperatures dropping close to zero degrees, Trapp said the student had wrapped himself in an orange tarp that was onboard the plane to keep warm. He also was wearing a jacket and wool cap.
When he met up with rescuers, the student was suffering from hypothermia but did not appear to have any major injuries, Trapp said. He was transported to a hospital in Billings.
The student had been on a solo training flight from Billings to Pryor, Wyo. He apparently veered off course and hit the mountainside northwest of Warren, aviation and rescue officials said.
The student had contacted his flight instructor via cell phone at about 9 a.m. to report he survived the crash with a dislocated shoulder and other minor injuries, said Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region in Seattle. That was about 12 hours after the student departed Billings.
Trapp said the student made several other calls and sent text messages before his phone went dead. Rescuers on the ground had searched for him through the night in an area about 8 miles from the crash site, Trapp said. The downed pilot’s aircraft was spotted from the air at about 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Dan Hargrove, director of aviation for Rocky Mountain College, could not be reached immediately for comment.
About 100 students are enrolled in the college’s aviation program. It started in 1998 and offers degrees in aeronautical science and in aviation management.
The program has a fleet of eight Piper and Beechcraft airplanes based at Billings Logan International Airport.
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