Girl walks away from Kentucky plane crash: The tragedy and ‘miracle’ of sole survival

A seven-year-old girl was the lone survivor of a prop-plane crash Friday that killed her family. Eight out of 28 sole survivors since 1970 have been children.

A seven-year-old Illinois girl was the only survivor of a prop-plane crash in Kentucky on Friday, joining a short list of people who have walked away from tragic airline disasters.

Authorities have not yet named the girl, whose immediate family, including her parents, a sister and cousin, died in the crash.

The girl walked several miles before she found an occupied house.

“Brave little girl,” Larry Wilkins, who opened the door to find the bloodied girl on his doorstep, told NBC News.

Authorities took two hours to find the crash site near a popular lake. The pilot had reported engine problems around 6 p.m. The twin-prop Piper PA-34 plane was en route from Florida to Illinois when it came down.

What remained of the plane after the crash was upside down, the girl told police. After determining that no one else survived, she trekked away from the site in search of help.

"This girl came out of the wreckage herself and found the closest residence and reported the plane crash,” Kentucky State Police Sgt. Dean Patterson told reporters. "It's a miracle in a sense that she survived it, but it's tragic that four others didn't."

The girl joins a very short list of people who have walked away as the sole survivors of plane crashes. The feat is so statistically improbable and rare that experts have largely failed to identify common denominators for survival.

However, personal resilience and determination have played clear roles in several sole survival incidents. The girl who survived Friday’s tragedy in Kentucky demonstrated those qualities in abundance. Moreover, being young does seem to be at least one survival factor, given that eight out of 28 sole survivors since 1970 have been children.

They include Ruben van Assouw, an 8-year-old Dutch national who survived a 2010 crash near Tripoli while 103 others died; Bahia Bakari, a 13-year-old girl who survived the 2009 Yemenia Airways crash into the ocean by clinging onto crash debris for 9 hours; and Erika Delgado, a nine-year-old nicknamed "Little Miss Miracle" who survived a 1995 crash near Bogota, Colombia, which killed her parents, younger brother and 49 others. A 2007 Cessna crash in the jungles of Panama left only one survivor, 13-year-old Francesca Lewis, who survived being pinned for two days in freezing mountain rains before rescuers arrived.

Sergeant Patterson said in a statement that the victims of Friday's crash in Kentucky were identified 49-year-old Marty Gutzler; 45-year-old Kimberly Gutzler; their daughter, nine-year-old Piper Gutzler; and her cousin, 14-year-old Sierra Wilder. The family hails from Nashville, Ill.

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