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'Exceptionally Lucky' Family Lives Through Plane Crash

February 25, 1993|VIKEN BERBERIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — Steve Gossard would have preferred to skip the hiking during his vacation, but the Glendale surgeon had little choice after he and his family walked away from a plane crash in mountainous northern San Diego County last week.

Gossard, his wife, Marty, and their children Stefanie, 11, and Neil, 8, hit stormy weather Saturday on their way home to Whiteman Airport in Pacoima after a week's vacation in Baja California.

Suddenly their single-engine Cessna 182 hit a downdraft and plummeted 2,300 feet in little more than a minute.

"I pulled the nose up and it was still going down," said Gossard, back at work at Glendale Adventist Medical Center and Verdugo Hills Hospital. "I called San Diego (air traffic control). We were in a cloud and I couldn't see anything."

It was "definitely an E-ticket ride at Disneyland," Marty Gossard said. But when the plane scraped the tops of 75-foot pine trees, the roller coaster turned terrifying.

"It happened really fast," she said. "You could hear the trees slamming back and forth against the plane. It was so loud.

"What I was thinking then was that this is what it feels like to die, and then we didn't. It was so bizarre."

The plane crashed at 3:37 p.m. on the east side of Volcan Mountain, northwest of Julian. The force of the impact hurled the engine 30 feet from the plane.

"They're exceptionally lucky," said Gary Steadman, a San Diego County sheriff's deputy in El Cajon, who searched for the family by helicopter after the Federal Aviation Administration reported the crash. The Civil Air Patrol and a U.S. Customs helicopter also scoured the countryside looking for survivors.

The children were not hurt. Steve Gossard, 42, suffered a gash on his right cheek, and Marty Gossard, 35, suffered a cut lip and bruised collarbone. But their first thought was to flee the plane quickly in fear it might explode.

*

"I noticed all the gas was pouring like a waterfall," Marty Gossard said. "Steve dove head-first out the front window over the hood. He opened the pilot's door from outside. I was sitting there saying, 'I can't move,' and then I realized my seat belt was still on."

Salvaging jackets and a box of cheese sticks, the family began a 2 1/2-hour trek out of the woods.

"It was cold and snowing," Neil said. "My sister had one shoe. I had a short-sleeve T-shirt. We were all cussing a lot, and my mom said, 'We should be saying thank you to the Lord. . . . We just survived a plane crash.' "

Crossing several streams--Stefanie struggling along in her mother's tennis shoes and Marty Gossard in her husband's extra pair of sneakers--they followed an overgrown trail down a steep slope for about five miles, until they heard dogs barking.

"It was the best sound in the world," Marty Gossard said.

They followed the barking to a trailer. With no one home and the door ajar, they walked inside and called air traffic controllers in San Diego to let them know that the family was safe.

Unfazed by their unexpected guests, Rusty Miller and his wife cooked dinner for the Gossards and put them up for the night. Marty Gossard, a nurse, bandaged the gash on her husband's face.

"It was kind of an experience because we live in the boonies," Miller said.

Next day the Gossards leased a car and drove back to their home in Sunland. The children are back at school, and Gossard returned to work Tuesday.

The couple, who together have nearly 600 hours of flight time, don't plan to give up flying. With one caveat.

"I'll think twice before flying into a cloud next to a mountain again," Marty Gossard said.

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