Girl’s step-grandparents feared lost in accident
By Ann McCreary
Autumn Veatch, the 16-year-old Bellingham girl who survived a plane crash in the North Cascades, was expected to be released Tuesday evening (July 14) from Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, where she was treated for dehydration, burns and minor lacerations.
Veatch walked through rugged, mountainous terrain after the plane crash on Saturday (July 11) and was picked up by a motorist who saw her by the side of Highway 20 near the Easy Pass trailhead on Monday afternoon (July 13).
A search by helicopter and fixed-wing planes was continuing Tuesday for the small plane that carried Veatch and her step-grandparents, Leland Bowman, 62, and his wife, Sharon, 63, both of Marion, Montana.
Veatch said the plane was flying in clouds and when it broke out of the clouds “all she could see was trees,” according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.
When the plane impacted, it caught fire quickly, according to the account Veatch gave Rogers. She tried to help her step-grandparents out of the plane and got burns on her hands in the process, Rogers said. Afraid the plane would explode, she moved away from it, he said.
The plane, piloted by Leland Bowman, left Kalispell, Montana, at about 1 p.m. Saturday and was expected to arrive in Lynden, Washington, near the Canadian border in Whatcom County, at 4:05 p.m. It dropped off radar near Omak at around 3:21 p.m. and the last cell phone signal was at about 3:49 p.m. Saturday, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
In a 911 call made after she was rescued, Veatch told the dispatcher that her step-grandparents had not survived.
“I was the only one that made it out of the plane … the only one that survived,” she said in a tape of the 911 call. “I have a lot of burns on my hands and I’m covered in bruises and scratches,” she told the dispatcher.
Followed trail out
Veatch said that after she left the crash site, she followed a creek until she encountered a trail, and followed the trail to the highway, according to Rogers. She spent at least one night sleeping on a sandbar next to the creek, he said.
The motorist who picked Veatch up took her to the Mazama Store around 3 p.m. Monday, and store employees notified authorities.
CB Thomas, who operates the Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies store next to the Mazama Store, helped Veatch because he is trained as a paramedic and was at the store when she arrived.
The girl had no “life-threatening injuries” but was “distraught,” Thomas said. “She was shaking and having a hard time describing what happened to her.” She said she had been walking and hadn’t eaten in three days.
“She had burns to her hands and was obviously scraped and bruised,” Thomas said.
Veatch was hungry and the store employees gave her a sandwich, and helped her make a phone call to her mother, Thomas said.
Thomas said U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Dave Graves arrived at the store and the girl was “able to identify a creek she followed and its relationship to the Easy Pass Trailhead.” Graves drew a map based on her description.
Aero Methow Rescue Service arrived and determined Veatch was stable and had no life-threatening injuries. She was placed on a stretcher and transported by ambulance to Three Rivers Hospital.
James Wallace, the doctor who treated Veatch at Three Rivers, said at a press conference on Tuesday that she was recovering well and was in “good spirits,” and would be discharged that evening.
Veatch’s story has generated nationwide interest. Eight television stations had parked satellite trucks at the Brewster Hospital on Tuesday.
Search area narrowed
The search for the plane began Saturday and by Tuesday had been narrowed to areas around Mazama, Lost River Airport and Rainy Pass. WSDOT said in a blog posting that Civil Air Patrol officials, who are assisting in the search, used cell phone data to help narrow the search parameters.
Two Civil Air Patrol planes, a helicopter from Homeland Security and a helicopter from Snohomish County were conducting the search Tuesday, said Barbara LaBoe of WSDOT.
She said no searchers were on the ground. “It’s really rough terrain and while we’ve focused it down, we don’t know where to target,” she said.
All planes are required to have an emergency beacon but no signals have been received from the missing plane. LaBoe said it could have malfunctioned or the topography might be interfering with the signal.
The missing plane’s tail number is N8749A. The plane is a white and red Beech 35, WSDOT said.
Don Fitzpatrick, a pilot from Mazama, gave up an attempt to fly over the North Cascades from western Washington Saturday afternoon, shortly before Leland Bowman and his two passengers were attempting the same trip from the east. “It was socked in along the crest of the Cascades, thick as soup,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick, experienced in the flight across the mountains, typically navigates by the North Cascades Highway, he said. But “the weather was marginal” on his flight back to the Methow Saturday afternoon, and it took him two hours to make a one-hour flight, he said.
He and a passenger took off in his single-engine Maule from Lynden around 1 p.m., and by the time they reached Marblemount “there were no holes, we couldn’t get through,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick flew south, gave up an attempt to fly over Stevens Pass, and ended up crossing the mountains at Snoqualmie Pass “between the layers,” landing in Twisp around 3 p.m., he said. Thunderstorms late Saturday afternoon – about the time Bowman’s Beech 35 dropped off the radar near Omak – “spell trouble for airplanes,” Fitzpatrick said.
Mazama Store owner Rick LeDuc said the store is often the first place to learn of accidents or other problems, such as avalanches, in the North Cascades because it is one of the first businesses on the way down from Washington Pass.
Reporters Laurelle Walsh, Don Nelson and Mike Maltais also contributed to this story.