SEATTLE – A 16-year-old girl told a 911 dispatcher “I was the only one that survived” after the small plane she was a passenger in crashed in the mountains of north-central Washington.
Autumn Veatch was picked up by a driver Monday after she hiked through a thick forest to safety in what a rescuer called a miracle.
In the 911 call released by authorities Tuesday, Veatch told the dispatcher she had been flying from Kalispell, Montana, to Bellingham, Washington.
Veatch said she had “a lot of burns on my hands, and I’m like kind of covered in bruises and scratches.”
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Veatch was traveling with her step-grandparents when the plane crashed Saturday. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, who spoke with Veatch, said Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, were killed.
“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.
She was picked up Monday afternoon and taken 30 miles to a general store, where employees also 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.
Rogers said Veatch would likely be released 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.”
Santina Lampman, a longtime family friend who was in the room when Autumn called her father to report that she was OK, told the Seattle Times that the teen was glad to be alive.
“She did joke that it was a good thing she’d watched all those ‘Survivor' shows that she didn’t like, but her dad made her watch anyway,” Lampman said.
The trail Autumn Veatch navigated is called Easy Pass, but the Washington Trails Association website says: “don’t be fooled by the name - the way to Easy Pass is anything but easy.” The trail leads to the gateway of the North Cascades National Park, but along the way it passes through steep terrain.
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 airplane crews suspended their efforts. The search was to resume Tuesday.
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.”
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.