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Bellingham teen’s relatives died from plane crash, not fire

In this July 13, 2015, photo provided by family friend Sara Esperance, Autumn Veatch eats a meal of chicken nuggets at the Okanogan Douglas Hospital in Brewster. Veatch, 16, of Bellingham survived a plane crash Saturday, July 11, that killed her step-grandparents and forced Veatch to hike her way to safety.
In this July 13, 2015, photo provided by family friend Sara Esperance, Autumn Veatch eats a meal of chicken nuggets at the Okanogan Douglas Hospital in Brewster. Veatch, 16, of Bellingham survived a plane crash Saturday, July 11, that killed her step-grandparents and forced Veatch to hike her way to safety. Associated Press

The two people who died in a small plane crash that prompted a teenage survivor to hike to safety from a rugged Washington state mountainside were killed “instantaneously or quick” and were burned beyond recognition, a deputy coroner said Thursday.

Autumn Veatch, 16, of Bellingham has said her step-grandparents, Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, were with her on the plane.

“But there was fire involved,” Skagit County Deputy Coroner Matthew Sias said, “so that has hampered us from making an identification.”

Officials will use dental records to confirm the identities, which could take about a week, Sias said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

The cause of death was “blunt trauma,” he said, adding “the injuries we found were consistent with them perishing very quickly.”

A National Transportation Safety Board team arrived Thursday at the site near Easy Pass Trail to investigate. They will gather on-scene information for several days before removing any wreckage from the site, said public affairs officer Terry Williams.

Veatch returned home to Bellingham late Tuesday.

It took her about two days to find help after the weekend crash that left her bruised and singed.

She had to make her way down a steep slope and follow a creek to a river. She spent a night on a sand bar and sipped small amounts of water.

She followed the river to a trail, and the trail to a highway where two men driving by stopped and picked her up Monday afternoon, bringing her to a general store in tiny Mazama, near the east entrance of North Cascades National Park.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers has said she and her relatives were flying a Beechcraft A-35 from Kalispell, Montana, to Lynden, when it struck the trees, plummeted to the ground and caught fire.

Bellingham Herald reporter Wilson Criscione contributed to this story.

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