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

(Continued from page 1)

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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.

The boy had rolled partially underneath the plane before the floorboards came to rest against his legs and waist, trapping him. His torso dangled out of sight.

Donald and Rosemarie could hear him screaming.

"There was so much force pressing against him, there was no way I was going to yank him up from the plane," Donald said.

Unaware that Rosemarie was conscious, Donald grabbed an antenna at the rear of the plane and dragged himself to the roof. He crawled to Donnie, letting himself fall from the top of the Cessna to land beside his son.

Donald noticed a large branch from a nearby tree. A willow tree. It must have snapped in the crash, he thought. He used the tree as a brace to give his son support and "even him out."

Donald had packed a borrowed pair of shears in the plane. Now he used the tool to cut away the floorboards that were crushing the boy.

"Just give Daddy a couple minutes," he told Donnie. "I'm just going to take a break and then I'm going to finish cutting you out of here."

In the middle row, Rosemarie slipped in and out of consciousness, coughing up dark blood.

"I can't breathe!" she yelled.

Donald's adrenaline had vanished. He forced himself to crawl back to the front and shifted the pilot's body off her. Today, nearly two years later, she still doesn't know where he found the strength, Rosemarie said.

"God gave my husband the ability to do what he did, because it was beyond him."

As the sun went down, she reached back and found her son's hand. Rosemarie began to feel unfamiliar pangs in her stomach. A new kind of pain and a rush of panic.


Donald and Rosemarie Evans grew up in New York state's Hudson Valley. They were both 15 years old when they first met at a Poughkeepsie movie theater and started dating.

At 17, Donald joined the Marines for four years. He later enlisted in the Army and was sent to Iraq.

After leaving the military in 2007, Donald was eager to get away from civilization and move to Alaska. The couple settled in Wasilla, a suburb of Anchorage, and studied to become teachers.

They were eager to live in "the bush," the name Alaskans use for the vast part of the state separated from the road system. They thought they found their dream when they were hired to teach in Anvik, a village of fewer than 100 people where snowmobiles outnumber pickup trucks and a head of lettuce costs $5.50.

The family traveled to the village in June. It was their first flight in a small plane. They soon met Julia Walker, the only other teacher in the village. The kids became fast friends as Donald spent the summer erecting the school's new playground set. At night they opened the gymnasium for students to play basketball.

The couple told a group of boys they'd help them make go-carts in shop class.

"We were really impressed that they wanted to come and be part of the community early like that," said Tami Jerue, Walker's sister-in-law and social services director for the Anvik tribe. A week before classes were scheduled to begin, the teachers flew to the district headquarters of McGrath for a series of meetings to prepare for the upcoming school year.

Rosemarie bought a pregnancy test at the McGrath general store, confirming a hunch. The couple had assumed they couldn't have any more children because of an autoimmune disease that Donald suffered, and the prospect of another baby left the couple excited and nervous.

(Continued on page 3)

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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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