SEATTLE — A 16-year-old girl survived a small-plane crash that killed her step-grandparents in the rugged mountains of north-central Washington state and then hiked through thick forest to safety in what a rescuer called a miracle.
Searchers still are looking for the wreckage, but Autumn Veatch says Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, died in Saturday’s crash, according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, who spoke with the girl.
“She said they were flying in the clouds, and in an instant, it opened up and there was the mountain, and they crashed into the trees,” Rogers told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The sheriff said pilot Leland Bowman was flying too low.
“He tried to pull up, but it was too late,” Rogers said.
Veatch told authorities she stayed at the crash site for a day before deciding to hike down, eventually finding a trail and following it to the trailhead on a highway near the east entrance to North Cascades National Park.
A motorist picked her up Monday afternoon and drove her 30 miles east to a general store, where employees called 911.
Veatch had no life-threatening injuries but was dehydrated and suffering from a treatable muscle tissue breakdown caused by vigorous exercise without food or water, said Scott Graham, CEO of Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster. She stayed at the hospital overnight to rest and get hydrated.
Rogers said Veatch would likely be released from the hospital Tuesday.
“It’s a miracle, no question about it,” Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lustick of the Civil Air Patrol told reporters, saying he has spent 30 years in search and rescue. “Moments of joy like this can be hard to find.”
Her father, David Veatch of Bellingham, told reporters outside the hospital late Monday that his daughter was exhausted but doing remarkably well. She was able to joke with him about the survival shows they watched together on television, he said.
“She’s just an amazing kid,” David Veatch said. “There’s more to her than she knows.”
The Beech A-35 left Kalispell, Montana, on Saturday afternoon, heading for Lynden, Washington. The plane crossed the Idaho-Washington border about 2:20 p.m. PDT but dropped off the radar near Omak, Washington, about an hour later, officials said.
Navy helicopters searched for the wreckage until late Monday, several hours after fixed-wing planes suspended their efforts. The search would resume Tuesday, weather permitting, said Barbara LaBoe, a Washington state Transportation Department spokeswoman.
Rescuers earlier narrowed down a search area based on cellphone data and typical flight patterns. But there was no sign of the aircraft or its occupants until the teen walked out of the woods.
The girl had been “walking for a couple of days,” said Rogers, the sheriff. He called her feat “pretty impressive.”
Serena Lockwood, the manager at the Mazama Store, said the girl and a driver came in Monday afternoon, saying she had been in a plane crash.
“She was obviously pretty traumatized,” Lockwood said.
Leland Bowman was issued a private pilot license in 2011, and the plane, manufactured in 1949, was registered to him, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
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