SEATTLE (AP) — Search crews looking for a small plane that crashed in north-central Washington with three people aboard said Tuesday night they have located wreckage in the general area where a crash survivor emerged from the woods.
Aerial searchers spotted the wreckage in the same vicinity where 16-year-old survivor Autumn Veatch emerged from the woods on Monday. However, crews were not able to reach the heavily wooded site Tuesday night and no positive identification has been made of either the plane or the two missing occupants, Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, said Barbara LaBoe, a Washington state Transportation Department spokeswoman for the plane search.
Efforts to reach the site will resume in the morning, LaBoe said. Search officials will assess whether air crews can be used and also will coordinate ground crew searches with the Skagit County sheriff's office.
Autumn Veatch has said the Bowmans, her step-grandparents, did not survive the Saturday crash.
The plane piloted by Leland Bowman was bringing her home from a Montana visit.
The teen was released Tuesday evening from Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster.
In her hometown of Bellingham, Washington, family friends gathered Tuesday night in anticipation of a happy homecoming, bringing balloons and flowers to the apartment of the teen's father, David Veatch.
"We just want to show her and her family that we care and we love her," said one friend, Amber Shockey. She added that Veatch had said "she was happy to be coming home."
The teen left the burning wreckage of the small plane and did what she could: She headed down the steep slope, following a creek to a river. She spent a night on a sand bar, where she felt safer. She drank small amounts of the flowing water but worried she might get sick if she drank more.
She followed the river to a trail, and the trail to a highway. Two men driving by stopped and picked her up Monday afternoon, bringing her — about two full days after the crash — to the safety of a general store in Mazama, a tiny town in north-central Washington, near the east entrance of North Cascades National Park.
"We crashed, and I was the only one that made it out," she told a 911 operator, after a store employee called for her. "I have a lot of burns on my hands, and I'm kind of covered in bruises and scratches and stuff."
Later she managed to joke from her hospital bed about how it was a good thing her dad made her watch the television show "Survivor."
"She's got an amazing story, and I hope she gets to tell it soon," said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, who had interviewed Veatch and relayed details of her ordeal to The Associated Press. "It's pretty impressive when you talk to her."
According to Rogers, the Beechcraft A-35 was flying over north-central Washington on its way from Kalispell, Montana, to Lynden, Washington, when it entered a cloud bank. Then the clouds suddenly parted, and from her seat behind the cockpit, Veatch could see the mountain and trees ahead. Leland Bowman tried to pull up — to no avail.
They struck the trees and the plane plummeted to the ground and caught fire.
"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."
Veatch had no life-threatening injuries but was dehydrated and suffering from a treatable muscle tissue breakdown caused by vigorous exercise without food or water, hospital CEO Scott Graham said earlier.
"It's a miracle, no question about it," Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lustick of the Civil Air Patrol told reporters, saying he has spent 30 years in search and rescue. "Moments of joy like this can be hard to find."
Lustick said Veatch provided searchers with clues to the location of the wreckage.
Associated Press writers Alina Hartounian in Phoenix and Manuel Valdes in Bellingham, Washington, contributed to this report.