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 3)

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

Additional Photos Below

ABOUT THIS STORY

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.

Sometime before nightfall, Donald heard wolves howling in the fog.

"Everybody started screaming," he said. "I was just begging everybody to stop screaming. Just, 'please."'

The sun went down about 10:45 p.m., according to National Weather Service records. The wolves never appeared. Neither did the helicopter.

STAYING AWAKE

Donald angled a broken school district laptop, trying to reflect a flash of light through the clouds to let someone know survivors were huddled in the plane.

He held Mckenzie while Rosemarie, still trapped in her seat, held Donnie's hand. Every few seconds, Donald yelled to the family and tried to get them to yell back, determined to keep everyone awake.

Falling asleep might kill them, he feared, something he had learned while in Iraq. Rosemarie, still unable to move, drifted in and out of consciousness.

They sang the words to a children's poem that Donald and Rosemarie read to Donnie when he was a baby:

"These little hands are held in prayer. To thank you God for being there. These little hearts speak to you."

"This went on for a good part of at least 12 hours," Donald said.

Rosemarie worried she might be miscarrying. She prayed in silence, for Ernie Chase and Julia Walker and her family. "For the lives that God took and the lives that were still on the plane and the life of my unborn child," she said.

The feeling of helplessness was torment, Rosemarie said. "As a mother, your children need you, but literally there's nothing you can do."

Donald found a bag of clementine oranges the family had purchased in McGrath -- fresh fruit is an expensive luxury in the villages -- and tossed one to each family member.

"He said, 'Here, guys, this will bring a little sunshine into our lives right now,"' Rosemarie said.

It was a last meal. After they ate, Donald had planned on telling the family that they could finally go to sleep.

"We really at that point thought, 'we're going to die,"' Rosemarie said.

Less than five minutes later, they heard the helicopter.

BABY SURVIVES

The Evans family had been trapped in the plane for more than 15 hours when Guardsmen hoisted them to the Pavehawk.

Both Donald and Rosemarie had suffered broken backs. Donald broke both legs, and one foot had been twisted completely around. The couple underwent a series of surgeries and were wheelchair-bound for months.

Doctors operated, reattached Mckenzie's intestines and removed her appendix. They cut along Donnie's skull from ear to ear and pushed back the middle part of his skull.

Donald, who did so much to save his family, was hurt the most. The neurological damage has impaired his memory and his ability to concentrate and control his bowels and bladder. He now walks with a cane and still needs a wheelchair for longer distances.

Rosemarie now has a plate in her arm and rods and screws lodged in her back. Doctors tried to give her drugs that would not pass through the umbilical cord to her baby. She was told many times the child might not make it, she said.

She gave birth exactly seven months after the crash. One of the nurses who helped in the emergency room when the family first arrived from the crash site was on hand to deliver the baby, she said.

The couple named the girl Willow, for the tree branch that Donald used to save his son. They named her Julia, for the teacher who lost her life in the crash. And they named her Grace, Rosemarie said, "because it's by the grace of God that we're all here."

Willow Julia Grace Evans celebrated her first birthday in March.

(Continued on page 5)

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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

20130430_Alaska
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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

20130430_Alaska
click image to enlarge

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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