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Teenage plane crash survivor out of hospital

Published 15/07/2015

David Veatch, the father of plane-crash survivor Autumn Veatch, 16, speaks briefly to reporters waiting at the entrance of the Okanogan Douglas Hospital in Brewster, Washington (AP)
David Veatch, the father of plane-crash survivor Autumn Veatch, 16, speaks briefly to reporters waiting at the entrance of the Okanogan Douglas Hospital in Brewster, Washington (AP)

A 16-year-old girl who walked for two days to reach safety after surviving a plane crash in a heavily-wooded region of Washington state in the US has left hospital.

Friends had gathered at the home of Autumn Veatch to welcome her home after her ordeal, after a small plane carrying her and her step-grandparents crashed in a rugged part of north-central Washington.

The fate of the other two people on board, Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, has not yet been confirmed, although Autumn has said they did not survive the crash.

Search crews looking for the plane say they have located wreckage in the general area where Autumn emerged from the woods.

State transport department spokeswoman Barbara LaBoe said crews have not yet been able to reach the site and no positive identification has been made of either the plane or the two missing occupants.

The plane was bringing Autumn home from a visit to Montana.

Efforts to reach the site are set to resume.

Autumn was released from a hospital in Brewster, Washington.

In her home town of Bellingham, Washington, family and friends brought balloons and flowers to the apartment of her father, David Veatch, ahead of her return.

Emergency services have described Autumn's survival as "a miracle" as they revealed how she emerged from the forest after walking for two days.

With her step-grandparents dead or dying in the burning wreckage of their small plane, Autumn feared an explosion as she got out of the wreckage. She headed down the steep slope, following a creek to a river.

The teenager then spent a night on a sand bar, where she said she felt safer. She drank small amounts of the flowing water, but worried about getting sick if she drank more.

She followed the river to a trail, finally emerging onto a highway. Two men driving by stopped and picked her up on 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, aided by clues Autumn provided, they also marvelled at the wherewithal of the 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 Autumn and relayed details of her ordeal to reporters.

The girl was released from Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster on Tuesday evening, hospital spokeswoman Melanie Neddo confirmed.

According to Sheriff Rogers, the Beechcraft A-35 plane was flying over north-central Washington state on its way from neighbouring Montana when it entered a cloud bank.

Then the clouds suddenly parted, and from her seat behind the cockpit, Autumn 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 - but it was too late.

They struck the trees and the plane plummeted to the ground, before catching fire.

"When they came out of the clouds, she said it was obvious they were too low," Sheriff 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."

Autumn 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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