It’s hard to imagine that just days ago, 16-year-old Autumn Veatch had been stepping out of a crashed plane in the Washington mountains as she tried to save her step-grandparents.
After two days of hiking through the forest, followed by a brief hospital visit that confirmed her injuries were not life-threatening, Autumn has been released and is finally back home.
Just before the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, she reunited with friends and family who were waiting with balloons and flowers in the city of Bellingham, Wash.
"We just want to show her and her family that we care and we love her," her friend Amber Shockey told the Associated Press. “It's astonishing that she could do this."
That same day, authorities who had been combing through the woods where the plane went down announced they had spotted wreckage from above. However, a crew has not been able to reach or identify the debris to confirm whether it came from Autumn’s accident, according to Barbara LaBoe, a Washington state Transportation Department spokeswoman. She said that the crew would continue its search on Wednesday.
Autumn had been flying home from Montana with her step-grandparents, Leland and Sharon Bowman, when their small plane went down in or near the North Cascades National Park. She said the Bowmans did not survive.
Autumn, who was covered in bruises and burns and badly dehydrated, couldn’t pull her step-grandparents out of the wreckage, she said. Scared the plane might explode, she described following drainage to a river and spending the night on a sand bar, the Monitor previously reported. Two days later, she found her way through a trail to a highway, where two men spotted her and drove her to a general store.
"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 survival to AP.
Sheriff Rogers said that the Beechcraft A-35 had been flying over north-central Washington when it entered a cloud bank, obstructing view of the passengers and from Mr. Bowman, who had been piloting the plane. When the clouds suddenly parted, Autumn could see from her seat behind the cockpit that a mountain and trees were ahead – but by then, it was too late.
The plane crashed into the trees and plunged to the ground, where it caught fire, according to Rogers’ account.
"When they came out of the clouds, she said it was obvious they were too low," 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."
This report contains material from The Associated Press.