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Crash Survivors Hike Out in Deep Snow

January 21, 1988|Associated Press

DURANGO, Colo. — Survivors of a commuter plane crash that killed nine people managed a "superhuman feat" by walking 1 1/2 miles through darkness, tangled brush and waist-deep snow, authorities said Wednesday.

The only survivor with boots on, 39-year-old Peter Schauer of Boonville, Mo., made his way to a farmhouse and summoned help after the Continental Express airliner went down Tuesday night. Seven others who survived the crash also made their way out, and an eighth was rescued from the wreckage.

"Under normal conditions, nobody could walk through this," said La Plata sheriff's Sgt. Dan Bender. "But the survivors were not under normal conditions. Adrenalin, shock--whatever, they did a superhuman feat."

The crash, in dense brush 10 miles east of this southwestern Colorado city, demolished the front of the plane but spared passengers seated in the rear. Officials said the flight, en route from Denver, went down minutes after controllers had cleared it for landing at La Plata County Airport.

'No Time to Scream'

"No one had time to scream," Schauer said Wednesday from his bed at Mercy Medical Center here. His condition was described as good.

"I looked down and could see the lights and thought we were awfully low for being that far out (from the airport). The next thing, it was like being at a carnival on a tilting cup," he said.

One wing struck a ridge and the plane did a couple of cartwheels, then landed upright in the snow, he said.

He said he climbed to the top of a hill and used lights in the distance to guide him as he struggled out to get help.

"I would count 50 steps and then rest," he said. "I was hurt and it was exhausting. The snow was up to my waist, and I'm over 6 feet. At times I hit some gullies and the snow went up to my shoulders."

7 Others Reach Road

Behind him were six other adults, one carrying a 23-month-old girl, who made their way to a highway. All of them were either released after treatment or hospitalized in good condition Wednesday.

About half an hour after the plane went down, Thelma Tate, 79, answered a knock at her door and found Schauer, lame and shivering, outside. "I thought maybe he had been in a bad car wreck," she said.

Four of 10 people still in the wreckage were alive when rescuers arrived about an hour after the crash, but two of them died as they were being brought out, said Keith Roush of the sheriff's volunteer rescue team. Another passenger died Wednesday in a hospital.

Among the dead were the pilot, Capt. Steve Silver, 36, of Denver, and co-pilot, Ralph Harvey, 42, of Littleton.

The passengers killed were identified as Kevin La Vigne, 33, and Mark Wheeler, 36, both of Denver; Robert Kasparek, 51, of Lakewood; Don Cox, 66, of Corpus Christi, Tex.; Boris Uskert, 43, of San Francisco; Anne-Marie Falsone, 52, of Denver, and Lee Vollmer, 25, of Longmont. It was Vollmer who died Wednesday.

Greg Feith, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, would not speculate on what caused the crash. He said that investigators would look into possibilities such as mechanical failure, pilot experience and weather. There was light snowfall in the region at the time of the crash.

The plane belonged to Colorado Springs-based Trans Colorado, which leases planes and crews to Rocky Mountain Airways, a Continental subsidiary that flies under the name Continental Express.

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