An Alaska plane crash survivor walked almost a mile through cold and foggy conditions to find help for crash victims. This is after she first sought help, by phone, to resuscitate her baby.
The plane carried ten in all and crashed near the the town of Saint Marys, killing four and injuring six people on Friday night. Melanie Coffee was one of the survivors. The pilot and her 5-month-old infant were not.
Though she suffered chest trauma, she tried to whistle in an attempt to lure search parties, according to Saint Marys Police Officer Fred Lamont Jr. She thought about creating a fire to attract attention. Despite phone contact being made between the injured and the rescuers, fog severely complicated the effort.
She finally decided to walk towards the village lights. Guided by the red light of a GCI communications tower, she made her way through three-quarters of a mile leading to the village landfill. Here, she found a search party.
She took them back to the site of the plane crash, which was not accessible by snowmobile. The rescue party then carried the injured survivors on stretchers and made their way back to the landfill by foot. From there, ambulances were able to take them back to the village where they could be flown to medical care facilities. The fog was too intense for a Coast Guard C-130 to land, so a LifeMed Alaska flight, along with two other aircraft, were used to transfer the the injured survivors. Four of them were in critical condition.
Lamont believes that Melanie Coffee is the “real hero” of this tragedy. She had attempted CPR on her infant and called for help.
Other survivors of the Alaska flight, apart from Coffee, included Pauline Johnson, 37, Kylan Johnson, 14, Tanya Lawrence, 35, Garrett Moses, 30, and Shannon Lawrence. Pilot Terry Hansen, 68, passengers Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and infant, Wyatt Coffee, perished in the plane wreck.
The Hageland Aviation flight was carried out by a single-engine, turboprop Cessna 208, and was ferrying between Bethel, Mountain Village and Saint Marys. The plane departed Bethel at 5:40 p.m. on Friday. En route to Mountain Village, it went down. The crash site was located about four miles to the east of Saint Marys.
Like many villages in Alaska, Saint Marys is not part of Alaska’s road system. Typically, people use small aircraft to get to regional hubs where they can catch another flight to get to Anchorage and other cities. Spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, Megan Peters said the turboprop plane likely was going through an area of freezing rain, limited visibility, and with a ceiling of 300 feet. Lamont described the ground conditions as ice fog in which vehicles get laced with icy moisture.
The site of the crash was originally found with help from the signal of the emergency locator beacon, according to National Transportation Safety Board agent Clint Johnson. On Friday night, around the time of the crash, the temperature was near 18F or -8C. Despite these cold and foggy conditions, injured Melanie Coffee found help.
By Fatema Biviji