SEATTLE (AP) — Ground search crews recovered two bodies Wednesday from the wreckage of a small airplane that crashed into a north-central Washington state mountainside last weekend, forcing a teenager who survived the impact to hike her way off a rugged slope to safety.
Deputies and volunteers who reached the wreckage found it burned out and smoldering.
The two victims haven’t been formally identified, but 16-year-old survivor Autumn Veatch has said her step-grandparents, Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, were killed in the crash.
The plane, piloted by Leland Bowman, was bringing Veatch home from a Montana visit.
A National Transportation Safety Board team was expected to arrive Thursday to investigate.
The teen was released from a hospital Tuesday. She provided searchers with the clues they needed to find the wreck.
Also Wednesday, a different set of searchers located the wreckage of a small plane from Minnesota that crashed in northern Washington state with two aboard. Two bodies were recovered from that wreckage, a sheriff said.
That plane’s tail registration number matches that of an aircraft reported missing from Minnesota, Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said. A man and woman from Kabetogama, Minnesota, were reportedly aboard the plane, which is believed to have crashed Saturday on its way to Washington’s San Juan Islands. It was reported missing Tuesday after relatives couldn’t reach the people on board.
There was no evidence the two flights were related, said Barbara LaBoe, a Washington state Transportation Department spokeswoman.
Veatch arrived home in Bellingham late Tuesday night. Family friends had gathered in anticipation of a happy homecoming, bringing balloons and flowers to the apartment of her 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.”
“It’s astonishing that she could do this,” Shockey added later.
Bruised by the impact, singed by the fire, fearing an explosion and knowing she couldn’t help her step-grandparents, Autumn Veatch headed down the steep slope, following a creek to a river.
She spent a night on a sand bar and sipped small amounts of water, worrying 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 tiny Mazama, near the east entrance of North Cascades National Park.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said 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.
Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix and Manuel Valdes in Bellingham, Washington, contributed to this report.
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