The sole survivor of a plane crash was reunited with her family Wednesday after rescue workers trekked for five hours to carry the 12-year-old...
DAVID, Panama — The sole survivor of a plane crash was reunited with her family Wednesday after rescue workers trekked for five hours to carry the 12-year-old American girl out of a remote mountain area, then airlifted her to a hospital.
Francesca Lewis, wearing a neck brace and with one arm bandaged, met with her parents at a hospital in the town of David, capital of Chiriqui province.
Michael Klein, a prominent California businessman, and his 13-year-old daughter, Talia — a friend of Francesca’s — were killed in Sunday’s crash near the jungle-flanked slopes of the Baru volcano, 270 miles west of the capital, Panama City. The Panamanian pilot Edwin Lasso, 23, was also killed.
Francesca was in stable condition at a private hospital with hypothermia, bruises and muscle injuries and does not remember much about the crash, said Samuel Cattan, the doctor treating her.
“She lost consciousness, and she only remembers [the plane] falling into a cloud, and then she saw trees,” Cattan said.
He said Francesca will probably remain in the hospital for at least a week.
Francesca’s parents, uncle and sister came from the United States to care for her. Earlier Wednesday, her mother, Valerie Lewis, told The Associated Press her daughter could walk but had apparently suffered a broken arm and hypothermia.
Rescue workers struggled for five hours against heavy rains and high-altitude winds to carry Francesca by stretcher from the crash site to a spot where a helicopter could land, said Chiriqui Civil Protection Director Armando Palacios.
A preliminary investigation showed the Cessna 172 struck a tree and split in two, said National Civil Protection Director Roberto Velasquez.
“It is miraculous that the girl could survive that impact,” he said.
Aviation authorities said the cause of the crash was not yet known, but Panama’s RPC radio reported that witnesses saw the plane flying at a very low altitude around noon Sunday amid buffeting winds.
Michael Klein was on vacation with the two girls at an eco-resort he owns in the Central American nation, according to Kim Klein, his ex-wife and Talia’s mother.
The three had been scheduled to return to Santa Barbara on Monday, she told the AP from Boquete, Panama, an area close to David.
Their plane disappeared after leaving Islas Secas off Panama’s Pacific Coast, heading for the Chiriqui volcano, about 285 miles west of the capital.
Klein, 37, was the chief executive officer of Pacificor LLC, a Santa Barbara-based company that manages several hedge funds. He founded two companies in the 1990s before becoming president and CEO of eGroups Inc., which was the world’s largest group e-mail communication service. Yahoo purchased eGroups for $450 million in August 2000 and it is now known as Yahoo Groups.
A colleague described Klein as a brilliant businessman who skipped high school and graduated from college at age 17.
“One of the most interesting people you could ever speak to on any … myriad of subjects,” Kurt Benjamin, the vice president of business development at Pacificor, told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. Benjamin said Klein was close to his daughter.
“Her father was so proud of her,” he said. “She was an amazing, accomplished horseback rider — just an absolute winner. Solid, solid young girl.”
The Associated Press writers Jessica Bernstein-Wax in Mexico City and Greg Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.