With twigs and leaves stuck to her torn clothes and bruises covering her body, Autumn Veatch held a phone in her burnt hands and told the 911 dispatcher she was the lone survivor of a fiery plane crash two days earlier.
“I was riding from Kalispell, Montana, to Bellingham, Washington, and ... I don’t know where, but we crashed and I was the only one that made it out,” the 16-year-old told the dispatcher Monday, July 13.
The small plane was expected to land at the Lynden Airport at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 11. Veatch, of Bellingham, was on the plane with her step-grandparents: Leland Bowman, 62, and his wife Sharon, 63, both from Marion, Montana. Leland was the pilot of the 1949 Beech A35 aircraft.
The plane crossed into Washington around 2:21 p.m. Saturday and dropped off radar near Omak at 3:21 p.m. The last signal from a cellphone on the plane was detected near Omak at 3:49 p.m., according to the Department of Transportation.
The plane ran into bad weather. Veatch later told her father, David Veatch, that it was “flying through the clouds and they crashed into the side of the mountain.”
She couldn’t help her family members out of the plane, which caught fire, so she stayed near the crash site for about a day and waited for rescuers, David Veatch said.
Aerial crews searched the area Sunday and Monday, focusing on an area near Rainy Pass, Lost River Resort Airport and the town of Mazama. Sometime during the search, however, Autumn decided she would follow a stream to the nearest trail. She followed it to Highway 20, where a driver found her and brought her 30 miles to Mazama Store, the first stop on the way down from Washington Pass.
She arrived to the store Monday afternoon visibly dazed, with scrapes on her face and burns on her hands, said Mazama Store manager Serena Lockwood. She didn’t say much but was able to give the 911 operator her name and some details about her injuries. She said she was “the only one that survived” the crash.
Paramedics came within minutes and took Autumn to Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster where she was being treated for dehydration Tuesday, July 14, according to family friend Chelsey Clark. One of the first things Autumn asked medical staff, Clark said, was if they could bring her a meal from McDonald’s.
Clark and her girlfriend, Sarah Esperance, spoke to media on Autumn’s behalf outside the Brewster hospital Tuesday. One reporter asked what Autumn’s survival story said about her character.
“If nothing else,” Esperance said, “this girl has a strong, strong will.”
Autumn is still in some pain, Clark said. She was released from the hospital Tuesday evening and was being driven back to Bellingham.
Dr. James Wallace, of Three Rivers Hospital, said on severe dehydration had been Autumn’s main medical concern over the past 48 hours. She had no drinking water when she left the plane, though she did drink from natural sources in the wilderness.
“She got to the road exactly when she needed to get to the road,” Wallace said. “She needed medical care for sure, it's hard to say how much longer someone could have been out there.”
She’d also suffered bruising and cuts in the crash, and burns from trying to rescue her step-grandparents from the wreckage.
A U.S. Navy helicopter crew, a Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and volunteer airplanes continued to search for the plane and the bodies of Autumn’s step-grandparents Tuesday in rugged, mountainous terrain in the North Cascades.
Crews were focusing on the area near the Easy Pass trail near Mazama in the Methow Valley, based on the route Autumn said she took from the plane.
Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help the crash survivor
Family friends have set up a gofundme.com page for Autumn Veatch, who lost her clothes, cellphone, electronics, art supplies and other personal belongings in the plane crash.