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 2)

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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.

Suddenly the decision to share a single teaching job, rather than moving to a district where they could each earn a full salary, made more sense. Don could teach during Rosemarie's maternity leave. Maybe it had all happened for a reason, she told him.

As her parents sat in meetings, Mckenzie sewed her first quilt.

At the end of the week, the family packed the new blankets, groceries and school supplies into the cramped Cessna. For two days they waited for a break in the weather.

Chase said they had an opening shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday and the family buckled in. Just before takeoff, Donald noticed an emergency locator beacon clipped to the pilot's sun visor.

He recognized the brand. He and Donnie took a similar beacon on rafting trips. It sends a distress signal with the user's whereabouts in an emergency.

"That's good to know," Donald thought.


As the plane prepared to leave, Donald and Rosemarie felt the split-second whirl of second thoughts and silent unease familiar to all village fliers. Donald wondered, would this be the flight where something went wrong?

"I can remember sitting there and just looking outside and just having that weird feeling," he said.

Pregnant Rosemarie just felt sick, her stomach queasy as they lifted off. Donald watched the Kuskokwim disappear thousands of feet below, and looked for moose or bear. The kids sat with books.

There was hardly any turbulence, Rosemarie said. She threw up anyway. Walker, belted beside her, helped her clean up and retreated into her iPod.

The National Weather Service recorded a temperature of 53 degrees and light wind, haze and fog.

Within minutes, the plane was enveloped in clouds.

"This is pretty bad," Donald remembered the pilot saying.

The father was disappointed, thinking of the family's cocker spaniel and Labrador waiting in Anvik. Donald swiveled in his seat. "Sorry, babe. We're probably going to turn around."

Rosemarie, who had been growing anxious about the weather, leaned back. "No big deal," she said.

Chase dipped the plane close to the ground, looking for clearer sky. The Cessna climbed, then dipped again. The pilot must have spotted something, Donald said.

The plane banked hard to the right. Donald Evans shouted to the pilot seated beside him: "Pull up!"


The four family members had all regained consciousness about 20 minutes after the crash, Rosemarie said.

Hypothermia was Donald's first fear. He removed Mckenzie's soaked clothing and wrapped her in her newly finished quilt. He added another layer using cardboard from boxes and black plastic garbage bags.

Less than an hour had passed since the accident. It was still light out. Rosemarie could hear birds chirping, but it was growing colder. After he pulled the body of the pilot off Rosemarie, Donald remembered the beacon.

He crawled to the front of the plane and tried to make radio contact to call for help.

The cockpit lights flickered.

No one answered.

Again and again he pressed the pilot's emergency beacon, a GPS messenger device popular with hikers and hunters.

Chase's family in Wasilla received the satellite message at 8:30 p.m. and called the pilot's parent airline, Inland Aviation Services, according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash.

The airline launched planes to search Chase's flight path, but bad weather cut the effort short. Other small planes flying in the area, meanwhile, alerted the Alaska Air National Guard that they'd picked up a distress signal from an emergency locator transmitter somewhere on the mangled plane.

The family knew they were only about 20 minutes from McGrath. Surely they would hear the sound of a rescue helicopter soon. They heard airplanes, Donald said, but never saw any lights.

(Continued on page 4)

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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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