Autumn Veatch, 16, was treated for dehydration and released from an Okanogan County hospital. She was one of three passengers on a plane that crashed in the Cascades. Crews spotted wreckage late Tuesday.
BREWSTER, Okanogan County — Just a day after a bruised and dehydrated Autumn Veatch made her way through demanding terrain to Highway 20 and told a 911 operator that she was the “only one that survived” a plane crash deep in the North Cascades, the 16-year-old was released from a hospital Tuesday evening.
Related: Survival stories in rough terrain
Veatch’s youthfulness, good health and “innate wisdom to make the right path out in an environment foreign to her” allowed her to live through her journey to safety, said Dr. James Wallace of Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, and the crash that likely killed her step-grandparents. He called her case “remarkable.”
Listen to the 911 call
“Every story is unique,” he said. “This one stands out.”
She was severely dehydrated and had moderate burns and lacerations when she arrived Monday at the Brewster hospital, he said. “The past 48 hours had been quite an ordeal.”
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Late Tuesday, state officials said search crews spotted wreckage of a plane near where she came out of the woods, but they were unable to reach the site. The search resumed Wednesday morning, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Family friends said Veatch wouldn’t provide many details about the events but did say the plane hit bad weather Saturday afternoon, there was a crash, and then she made it down the mountain.
“If nothing else, this girl has a strong will,” family friend Sara Esperance said. “Her being able to leave the hospital just goes to show that.”
Her friends declined to speak about anything else she experienced.
“She’s 16,” Esperance said. “Her physical and mental health are what’s most important.”
The teen told her father, David Veatch, and two family friends Monday that she fell down a cliff while trekking through the North Cascades.
She was flying with her step-grandparents, Leland Bowman, 62, and his wife, Sharon Bowman, 63, from Kalispell, Mont., to Lynden, Whatcom County, on Saturday when the plane disappeared from radar about 3:20 p.m.
“She said they were flying in the clouds, and in an instant, it opened up and there was the mountain, and they crashed into the trees,” Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Rogers told The Seattle Times Tuesday the teen only briefly stayed with the plane after it crashed, because “when they crashed there was a fire in the aircraft, which was immediate.”
She told authorities she decided to hike down, eventually finding a trail and following it to the trailhead on a highway near the east entrance to North Cascades National Park.
“It is extremely rugged country up there,” Rogers said. “It’s high, it’s really dense. I got a couple deputies that go in that area and hike, and it’s vast.”
Veatch was picked up Monday afternoon and taken 30 miles to a general store, where employees called 911.
In the call released by authorities Tuesday, Veatch told the dispatcher she had “a lot of burns on my hands and I’m, like, kinda covered with bruises and scratches and stuff.”
The sheriff said the pilot, Leland Bowman, was flying too low.
“He tried to pull up, but it was too late,” Rogers said.
Bowman had owned the Beech A35 airplane since at least March 2014, when he registered it with Federal Aviation Administration, records show.
In general, the Beech A35 Bonanza has gained a bad reputation among experienced aviators, some experts say. With a split V-tail and gas tanks on its wings, the plane’s unique design can attract inexperienced pilots, but it’s relatively complex to fly.
“This is not an airplane for beginners,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lustick, public information officer for the Civil Air Patrol, which was part of the search for Bowman’s downed plane.
Officials in Washington on Tuesday said they weren’t sure how many hours Bowman had logged as a pilot. FAA records show Bowman, who also owned a Piper PA-22-150, has been a licensed pilot for single-engine airplanes since 2011.
“At some point, search crews spoke to (Bowman’s) mechanic, who said the plane was in good working order,” said Barbara LaBoe, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Transportation, which is leading the recovery mission.
Built in 1949, Bowman’s four-seat A35 had retractable landing gear and a high-performance engine — features that Lustick said would have required additional training to pilot, for insurance purposes.
As a licensed pilot, Bowman would have received basic training in how to escape from an inadvertent flight into “instrument conditions” — bad or cloudy weather that requires pilots to fly using flight instruments rather than by visual references. FAA records show that he did not receive any advanced training for such situations.
Thunderstorms had rolled into the North Cascades about the time Bowman’s small plane vanished from radar, officials have said.
“In the account given to us by Autumn Veatch, she said that just prior to the aircraft impacting the terrain she was unable to see out the window,” said Lustick, who is a pilot and attorney. “So, that would’ve been instrument conditions.”
During an interview with search crews early Tuesday, Veatch looked at Google mapping images of the North Cascades and offered her recollections of the plane’s flight path to help narrow the search area, Lustick said.
Throughout Tuesday, teams aboard a U.S. Homeland Security UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter and a Snohomish County Search & Rescue UH-1H Huey chopper scanned the terrain near the Easy Pass Trail west of Mazama for the plane. Search teams included “personnel qualified to fast-rope into the crash area, if need be,” Lustick added.
The craggy, steep and heavily forested landscape posed challenges to the recovery effort, officials said.
Fatal crashes in Okanogan County
• In July 2012, a 72-year-old pilot flying an experimental plane took off from the Tonasket Municipal Airport in Okanogan County toward Sequim. After family members reported him missing, WSDOT launched a search in the Cascade range. The plane was never found and the NTSB assumed the pilot was killed in a crash.
• In July 2007, two California women heading home from Alaska crashed while trying to land at the Tonasket Municipal Airport. Both women died.
• In June 2004, a pilot ferrying a plane from Canada crashed shortly after taking off from the Dorothy Scott Airport in Oroville, Wash. The plane’s wreckage was found in a field nearly 6 miles away. The pilot was killed.
• In 1992, a Twisp man died in a solo plane crash at the Methow Valley State Airport.
National Transportation Safety Board and The Associated Press