Bellingham teen survives weekend plane crash in Cascades

A Bellingham teen survived a weekend plane crash in a rugged area near Mazama and walked out of the woods Monday afternoon, July 13.

Autumn Veatch, 16, of Bellingham was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries and burns, according to her family.

Veatch was on a plane that departed from Kalispell, Montana, and was expected to land at Lynden Airport around 4 p.m. Saturday, July 11, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The pilot was Veatch’s step-grandfather Leland Bowman, 62. Bowman’s wife Sharon, 63, was also on the plane. They are believed to have died.

Family friend Chelsey Clark said the family was notified that Veatch survived the crash and was found on Highway 20. Clark, who answered media inquiries for the family Monday, said Veatch had minor injuries and burns.

“It’s great to hear that we’re reunited again,” Clark said. “She’s a miracle child. If anybody could do it she could have done it, so we’re elated and happy.”

David Veatch, Autumn’s father, was on his way to pick his daughter up from Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster on Monday night.

“She told me that they were flying through the clouds and they crashed into the side of the mountain,” David Veatch said.

The plane caught fire after it crashed. She tried to help her step-grandparents out of the plane but couldn’t, so she stayed near the crash site for about a day, crying and waiting for rescuers, David Veatch said.

Autumn Veatch eventually followed a stream out of the woods and was picked up on the highway near Easy Pass Trail. The driver brought her to Mazama Store in Okanogan County.

Henry Clay Tennis, an employee at Mazama Store, said the teenager arrived Monday afternoon before paramedics put her on a stretcher and took her to the hospital.

The missing plane is a 1949 Beech A35 aircraft registered to Lee Bowman. It 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.

There was no indication from the pilot that there had been any issues on the flight. No emergency signals had been detected from the missing plane, according to the Civil Air Patrol.

Autumn finished her sophomore year at Bellingham High School last month and spent the last couple of weeks with her mom in Montana. Her dad was supposed to pick her up from a commercial flight on Saturday, Clark said. He had no idea his daughter was on a small private plane until he was told it was missing.

“If he would have known, he wouldn’t have allowed her to be on that plane,” Clark said.

Jeffrey Lustick of the Civil Air Patrol in Bellingham said the terrain and bad weather would have made for a scary flight. When the plane didn’t show up at the Lynden Airport on Saturday, concerned family members contacted authorities.

Aerial crews centered their search on an area near Rainy Pass, Lost River Resort Airport and the unincorporated town of Mazama on Monday before Autumn was found. Authorities are now using Autumn’s description of her journey from the crash and cellphone location records to try to backtrack to the crash site. The search for the missing aircraft and Autumn’s family members has been turned over to the U.S. Navy.

“I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be a first responder and have a survivor,” Lustick said. “Cheers went out when it was confirmed that this 16-year-old girl from Bellingham was alive.”

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.