May 12, 2013

Plane crash survivors on the mend in Maine

When the Evans family's plane went down in the Alaska wilderness, their dreams crash-landed, too. In the aftermath, they brought their broken bodies and resilient spirits across a continent – to the Waldo County town of Searsport.

By KYLE HOPKINS Staff Writer for The Anchorage Daily News
and TOM BELL Staff Writer for the Maine Sunday Telegram

SEARSPORT - At the end of last summer, a new family moved into the old, yellow cape on West Main Street. Why the family of five came here has been a bit of a mystery. They have no relatives in the area. No job that brought them here. No other connections. The explanation for why they came to Searsport emerged only after the older children began telling schoolmates about something that happened before they got here.

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The Evans family, pictured at their home in Searsport, includes, from left, 12-year-old Donald III; 10-year-old Mckenzie; Rosemarie; 14-month-old Willow; and Donald.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Additional Photos Below


THE DESCRIPTION of the plane crash was largely obtained from a recording Donald Evans made while recovering in a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska. He provided additional information two weeks ago during an interview at his home in Searsport, Maine.

Something about a plane crash in Alaska.

Donald and Rosemarie Evans, with their children, Donnie, 12, and Mckenzie, 10, have chosen Searsport as a place to recover. The town offers access to the same kind of natural beauty they loved in Alaska but also the comfort of a community in a seaside village in New England.

"This is a quiet place, a healing place," said Donald Evans, 33. "This forces us back into life again."

Two years ago, the family survived a harrowing experience in Alaska after a plane crash left them stranded in the wilderness and fighting for their lives. They have never told their story before.


When the clouds broke, Donald Evans saw a mountainside fill the windshield of the single-engine plane. He remembers saying, "Please, God, protect my family."

The Cessna crashed 37 miles west of McGrath, a remote town on the Kuskokwim River in western Alaska.

It was Aug. 13, 2011. Donald, his pregnant wife, Rosemarie, with their two children, Donnie and Mckenzie, had been flying from McGrath to Anvik, an Athabascan Indian village on the Yukon River, to begin their new jobs sharing a single elementary school teaching post in the village's two-classroom school.

Evans twisted in the six-seater Cessna 207 and looked behind him. The plane, hardly larger than a minivan, had snapped in half on the mountainside. He couldn't see his two children.

His wife was slumped in her seat, pinned underneath the pilot, Ernie Chase, who was dead.

Also dead was the woman sitting behind Evans, an admired schoolteacher named Julia Walker.

Donald Evans thought, "Everybody's gone."

Raised in upstate New York, the rookie teachers were still learning about their new home among the roadless hills and tiny riverside towns 350 miles northwest of Anchorage.

For Donald, still buckled in his seat, the clanging in his head was strangely familiar. The same feeling had chased mortar explosions and blasts from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, during his 13 months in Iraq. This time he could smell airplane fuel. Some of his teeth were missing. The impact broke his back, legs, feet and jaw, doctors would later tell him.

Somewhere outside the crumpled Cessna, in the trees and rain, Donald heard his daughter cry. Mckenzie, 8, had been sitting behind Walker before the crash. The force tossed her 20 feet and she was soaking wet, her arm broken and her intestines severed, possibly by the lap-strap seat belt common in small propeller planes.

Evans crawled out of the plane to her.

Together, Donald and Mckenzie pulled themselves back to the plane, where Rosemarie was regaining consciousness. She was struggling to breathe, the bodies of the pilot and teacher pressing against her.

Rosemarie immediately understood she had been in a plane crash. She thought of her unborn baby and wondered why the child would be taken away from her so fast.

Her back, feet, ankles and right arm were broken. The only part of her body she could move was her left arm, which she used to reach out the window, feeling behind her.

Donnie, 10, was somewhere back there, alive.

When the fuselage buckled in the middle, Donnie's seat pitched forward, the couple later realized.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

Anvik Plane Crash
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The pilot and a fellow passenger were killed when the small plane the Evanses were traveling in crashed near McGrath, Alaska, in August 2011. The survivors moved to Maine the following year.

Courtesy Alaska State Police

Anvik Plane Crash
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This crumpled Cessna, seen in the Alaska wilderness west of McGrath, was carrying six people when it crashed on Aug. 13, 2011, killing the pilot and a longtime schoolteacher from Anvik. The survivors, Donald and Rosemarie Evans and their two children, were rescued after more than 15 hours.

Courtesy Alaska State Police

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The Evans family, from left, Rosemarie, Mckenzie, Willow, Donnie and Donald, sit in the dining room of their home in Searsport late last month. In August 2011, the whole family was traveling to a remote village in Alaska when their plane went down. They broke bones and sustained significant injuries, but they survived. Last year, the Evanses moved to this Waldo County town, "a quiet place, a healing place," to recover and reconnect with life.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Donald Evans holds 14-month-old Willow as he listens to his wife talk about the 2011 plane crash in Alaska. Rosemarie Evans was two months pregnant at the time. "It's by the grace of God that we're all here," she said.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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