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THE NATION

'Incredible Miracle' of Plane Crash Survivors Ends 2 Families' Grief

A motorist in Montana spots the injured pair miles away from the wreckage. Two of their colleagues and the pilot were not so lucky.

September 24, 2004|Tomas Alex Tizon | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — As grieving family members planned funerals, two burned and bedraggled U.S. Forest Service workers walked out of a Montana wilderness 48 hours after they had been declared lost in a fiery plane crash.

Jodee Hogg, 23, of Billings, Mont., and Matthew Ramige, 29, of Jackson, Wyo., were rescued Wednesday after they flagged down a motorist on Highway 2 along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. The pilot and two other Forest Service employees were killed in the crash.

Hogg suffered a sprained back and ankle, and burns over 10% of her body. She was in stable condition at a Kalispell, Mont., hospital. Ramige suffered a broken back, and burns to his face, chest and legs. He is in serious condition in the burn unit of Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. Neither has talked publicly about the ordeal.

"I'm still in shock," Ramige's mother, Wendy Becker, said at a press conference at Harborview on Thursday. Hogg's father, Jim Hogg, told the Billings Gazette that his family went from "total depression" to "elation" and "cloud nine" in 48 hours.

The families of the pilot and four passengers were notified Tuesday that there were no survivors after search crews found the wreckage in a remote, mountainous area near the park. Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont, after surveying the scene, said the single-engine plane "went from 100 mph to zero in about 40 to 50 feet."

He said the subsequent fire "melted everything."

That anyone survived, he said, "is an incredible miracle."

The single-engine Cessna left Kalispell about 3 p.m. Monday on a routine flight to a nearby wilderness area. The four Forest Service workers on board had planned to conduct a vegetation survey. The flight should have taken 30 minutes, but it encountered bad weather, Dupont said. The last communication from the plane came 15 minutes into the flight.

The wreckage was spotted Tuesday, just above the timberline on Mt. Liebig in the Great Bear Wilderness. After spending more than an hour at the site and sifting through the wreckage, Dupont and Forest Service workers determined there were no survivors.

The sheriff said they found no signs such as footprints or written notes that would lead them to believe anyone had walked out. Dupont said searchers tried to recover what was left of the remains, and one body was airlifted from the scene before sunset Tuesday.

The victims' families, one Forest Service worker said, then began arranging for transport and burial.

The next day, about 2 p.m., a motorist spotted two people in bad shape along Highway 2. She apparently stopped and spoke to them before rushing two miles down the road to the Stanton Creek Lodge, near the community of Essex.

Lodge owner Gerald Kupka said the woman reported there were two plane survivors on the highway and said that somebody should call for help. Kupka said he did, and aid workers arrived to pick up the survivors within two minutes.

"This whole thing has been quite an emotional upset," Kupka said. "I can't imagine what it's like for the families to hear one day their son or daughter didn't survive, and the next day to find them in the hospital."

Searchers later learned that the two survivors had huddled together in 20-degree weather to prevent hypothermia. They stayed at the crash site for more than a day waiting to be rescued before deciding to venture down the mountain.

Dupont said Hogg and Ramige hiked three miles down a steep incline and through "very, very dense" brush. "Three miles doesn't sound like much," he said, "but considering their injuries and the terrain they had to go through, it's amazing."

Friends, family members and dozens of people in the search-and-rescue community in Glacier National Park spent much of Thursday trying to piece together what had happened. More than 100 people took part in the search effort, and dozens offered help but were turned down.

Denise Germann, a Forest Service worker in Kalispell, was friends with one of the victims, Ken Good, 58, of Whitefish. "I worked with him on a daily basis. He was part of the Flathead National Forest family," Germann said.

Also killed were pilot Jim Long, 60, of Kalispell and Davita Bryant, 32, of Whitefish.

Germann said she and other co-workers were dealing with a tumult of emotions.

"First we thought there were no survivors. Then two days later, we get a call that two survivors walked out of the wilderness," she said. "Now we're so happy to have Jody and Matt back, but at the same time, we're grieving for Ken and Davita. It's been a hard week."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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