By Steve Guntli
A 16-year-old Bellingham girl was found alive nearly two days after the plane she was in crashed in Okanogan County.
Autumn Veatch was found walking along the side of Highway 20 near the unincorporated community of Mazama in Okanogan County. A passerby stopped to check on her, and she confirmed she had been in a plane crash. The driver gave her a ride to a nearby general store, where she called the police. An EMT treated her for minor wounds at the scene and transferred her to a nearby hospital.
Rescue crews have been searching for the plane Veatch was on since July 11, when the plane was due to land at an airstrip in Lynden. At around 1 p.m. on July 11, the white and red Beech 35 aircraft left an airfield in Kalispell, Montana, on its way to Lynden. The plane was owned and piloted by Veatch’s step-grandfather, Leland Bowman, 62, of Marion, Montana. Bowman’s wife, Sharon, 63, was also on the plane. Veatch had been in Montana visiting her mother.
The plane was due to arrive in Lynden by 4 p.m. on July 11. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contacted family members and local authorities late Saturday night after the plane failed to arrive.
According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the plane dropped off the radar at approximately 3:20 p.m. outside Omak, Washington. The last signal from one of the passenger’s cell phones was detected at 3:49 p.m., also near Omak. There had been no indication that the flight had any issues, according to Civil Air Patrol spokesperson Jessica Jerwa. Veatch told police the plane struck the side of a mountain and caught fire. The girl attempted to get her step-grandparents to safety, but couldn’t. It is believed the Bowmans both died in the crash.
Veatch spent a day near the wreckage waiting for rescue before eventually following a stream that led her to Highway 20. EMTs treated her for minor burns and injuries before transferring her to Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, Washington. She has since been released.
The U.S. Navy has taken over the search for the downed plane. On July 14, crews found what they believe to be the plane’s wreckage, but were not able to confirm at the time of publication.