SEATTLE – A 16-year-old girl survived a small-plane crash in the rugged mountains of north-central Washington state and then hiked through thick forest to reach safety in what one official called “a miracle.”
But searchers still were looking for the wreckage and the teen’s two step-grandparents who also were aboard. There was no official word on Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, three days after the aircraft went down.
Autumn Veatch said the plane crashed and caught fire after flying into a bank of clouds, according to authorities. She remained 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 has 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.
“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.
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.
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,” Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. 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.