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US teen in good spirits after surviving mountain plane crash

July 15, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) — With her step-grandparents dead or dying in the burning wreckage of their small plane, 16-year-old Autumn Veatch needed to somehow find her way off the remote, thickly forested Washington state mountainside where they crashed Saturday afternoon.

Bruised by the impact, singed by the fire, fearing an explosion and knowing she couldn’t help the other victims, the girl did what she could: She headed down the steep slope, following a creek to a river. She spent a night on a sand bar, where she felt safer. She drank small amounts of the flowing water, but worried she might get sick if she drank more.

She followed the river to a trail, and the trail to a highway. Two men driving by stopped and picked her up Monday afternoon, bringing her — about two full days after the crash — to the safety of a general store in Mazama, a tiny town in the heart of Washington state, near the North Cascades National Park.

“We crashed, and I was the only one that made it out,” she told an emergency operator, after a store employee called for her. “I have a lot of burns on my hands, and I’m kind of covered in bruises and scratches and stuff.”

As authorities continued searching for the plane’s wreckage Tuesday, aided by clues Veatch provided, they also marveled at the wherewithal of a teenager who managed to survive — and to later joke from her hospital bed about how it was a good thing her dad made her watch the television show “Survivor.”

“She’s got an amazing story, and I hope she gets to tell it soon,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, who had interviewed Veatch and relayed details of her ordeal to The Associated Press.

The teen was released from Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster on Tuesday evening, hospital spokeswoman Melanie Neddo confirmed. Neddo said she did not know where the young woman was headed. Veatch’s father, David Veatch, had traveled from his Bellingham home to be with her.

According to Rogers, the Beechcraft A-35 was flying over north-central Washington state on its way from neighboring Montana when it entered a cloud bank. Then the clouds suddenly parted, and from her seat behind the cockpit, Veatch could see the mountain and trees ahead. Her step-grandfather, Leland Bowman, was piloting with his wife, Sharon, by his side. He tried to pull up — to no avail.

They struck the trees and the plane plummeted to the ground and caught fire.

“When they came out of the clouds, she said it was obvious they were too low,” Rogers said. “They crashed right into the trees and hit the ground. She tried to do what she could to help her grandparents, but she couldn’t because of the fire.”

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, hospital CEO Scott Graham said earlier.

“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.”

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