Sunday, October 29, 2017

Teen survivor talks about tragedy two years after plane crash: Beech A35 Bonanza, N8749A, fatal accident occurred July 11, 2015 in Mazama, Washington

Autumn Veatch survived a plane crash that killed her step-grandparents two years ago in Washington's Cascade Mountains.


Leland and Sharon Bowman of Marion, Montana, stand next to their plane in this undated photo.


Autumn Veatch was 16 years old when the plane she was flying in crashed in the Cascades.

The Bellingham High School student was flying with her step-grandparents when the plane was missing for three days. 

Autumn spent those three days lost in the Cascades before she found her own way out, following a stream downhill and eventually finding a trail. 

Her amazing story of survival from the crash in 2015 was inspiring. The bad weather and poor visibility resulted in the plane slamming into a mountain peak. 

Autumn was in the back seat of the Beech A35 Bonanza, the front of the plane burst into flames. 

Autumn couldn't get her seatbelt off. She pulled up her legs and climbed out from the seat behind her grandfather. She told KIRO 7 she tried to pull him out, but he was too heavy. As the flames spread she had to get away from the plane, and her grandparents died in the fire.

fter days lost in the Cascades she made her way to the Easy Pass Trailhead. She walked out to Highway 20 and tried to flag down a passing car; no one would stop. She found two hikers who drove her to a store in Mazama. That's where Autumn called 911, the first time anyone heard from the teen. 

She was taken to hospital in Brewster. Doctors said she was dehydrated, had scratches and burns on her hands. Her father and friends reunited with her at the hospital in Brewster, arriving with the teen’s favorite food, chicken nuggets.

Now, two years later, KIRO-7 wanted to see how Autumn is now.

“It doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like something like that could have ever happened to me, but it did,” said Autumn Veatch.

Autumn is now 18 years old and still struggling.

"Just since the plane crash, it's hard to be associated with the name Autumn Veatch, because people recognize my name and pry for information and it makes me uncomfortable," Autumn said.  

She started using an alias online. 

She went back to school and finished her junior year at Bellingham High School, but said it was difficult when classmates and teachers caught her off-guard and asked her about the crash.

Autumn dropped out of school her senior year.  

"I'm not really sure how to process this anymore. I'm not sure what kind of closure I could have. My step-grandparents aren't alive anymore, " Autumn said. "I almost died, it was horrible. There's nothing really good that's come of it. I don't know how to feel better about it."

Autumn sat inside a Bellingham coffee shop during her interview with KIRO 7.  

She was quiet and thoughtful, and revealed a feisty sense of humor.

"People actually invite me to go hiking -- and I'm like, 'Why would I ever want to do that with you?' I don't want to go camping. I don't want to go hiking. I don't want to do any of that crap," Autumn said, smiling.

She likes music, art and fashion. Autumn said she might want to design clothes in the future, or put her art on clothing. 

Autumn does not seek the spotlight, but said she is willing to share her story of survival because she knows it gives hope to other people experiencing hard times. 

She worked with author Tara Ellis to write a book about her experience, "Getting Out Alive: The Autumn Veatch Story." 

There is talk about the possibility of a movie; Autumn has already talked to a screenwriter.

Autumn stays out of the woods. She said the smell of burning is really a trigger for her, reminding her of the crash.

She is afraid to fly, but does anyway. She said her desire to travel outweighs the fear.

When she was asked if she'd ever get over being afraid, Autumn answered, "I don't know. Hard to say. I don't know if someone fully gets over something like that."

Autumn is working with a new therapist, and is hopeful.

"I just hope I can find peace with myself and be happy and content and just comfortable with who I am," Autumn said. "I haven't quite found that peace yet, but I know I will."

Story and video ➤ http://www.kiro7.com


The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Seattle / Renton, Washington 
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas
Continental Motors, Inc.; Mobile, Alabama

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board:  https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

Investigation Docket  - National Transportation Safety Board:  https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

Aviation Accident Data Summary - National Transportation Safety Board:  https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

Lee Bowman: http://registry.faa.gov/N8749A

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA212 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, July 11, 2015 in Mazama, WA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/02/2016
Aircraft: BEECH A35, registration: N8749A
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

A review of recorded communications between the pilot and a flight service station revealed that, before the flight, the noninstrument-rated, private pilot received two formal weather briefings. Both briefings reported that visual flight rules (VFR) conditions existed at the departure and destination airports but included forecast weather conditions along the route of flight that called for areas of mountain obscuration and precipitation. During the first briefing, the pilot disclosed that he had recently acquired a new tablet and that he was still learning how to use it. He also acknowledged that he would not be able to fly instrument flight rules if it became necessary. 

The pilot postponed his departure after the first briefing, but he and two passengers departed for the cross-country personal flight under VFR about 2 hours after the second briefing. The surviving passenger reported that, about 1 1/2 hours into the flight, the cloud coverage increased and that the pilot started to descend the airplane to stay clear of clouds; however, the airplane entered a cloud. At that time, the other passenger was using the pilot’s tablet to help him navigate the airplane, but she accidentally turned it off. Shortly after, the surviving passenger observed trees directly in front of the windshield. The pilot pulled back on the yoke to try and gain altitude, but the airplane impacted mountainous terrain at an elevation of about 5,255 ft mean sea level. 

The wreckage was confined to the impact area, and the damage was consistent with controlled flight into terrain. A postaccident examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation. A review of satellite imagery indicated cloudy conditions over the accident location. Given the passenger’s statement, the flight likely encountered instrument meteorological conditions, and the pilot was unable to see the mountainous terrain until seconds before the collision.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The noninstrument-rated pilot’s decision to continue visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in his failure to maintain clearance from mountainous terrain.

On July 11, 2015, about 1600 Pacific daylight time, a Beechcraft A35, N8749A, was destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering near Mazama, Washington. The private pilot and one passenger were fatally injured. The second passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane was registered to, and operated by, the pilot as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight, and no flight plan had been filed. However, instrument meteorological conditions were reported near the accident site. The flight originated from Red Eagle Aviation (S27), Kalispell, Montana, about 1415 mountain daylight time, with an intended destination of Lynden Airport (38W), Lynden, Washington. 

On July 11, 2015, an Alert Notification (ALNOT) was issued for the accident airplane. On July 13, 2015, a surviving passenger was located on Highway 20 near Easy Pass Head Trail, Skagit County, Washington. In a verbal statement provided to Okanogan County Sheriff's Department, she reported that she and her grandparents were flying from Montana. During the flight, the weather deteriorated, and the airplane flew into clouds. When the airplane exited the clouds, she saw a mountain in front of the airplane. The airplane impacted terrain, and a post-accident fire ensued. The surviving passenger attempted to extract the pilot and the other passenger from the wreckage, but she was unsuccessful. On July 14, 2015, the Skagit County Sheriff's Department located the wreckage about 16 miles west of Mazama.

In an interview with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), the surviving passenger stated that the pilot, the other passenger, and she were scheduled to leave Kalispell on July 11 about 0700 mountain daylight time. However, their departure was postponed due to bad weather. Instead, the airplane departed about 1400, and was scheduled to arrive in Lynden around 1630. About 1.5 hours into the flight, the survivor observed increased cloud coverage and strong turbulence. To stay out of clouds, the pilot kept descending. After the airplane flew through a first cloud, the pilot executed a sharp left turn to avoid a collision with the mountainous terrain. He continued to fly through the mountain pass using a freeway below to navigate. Shortly after, the airplane entered a second cloud. At that time, the other passenger was using a pilot's tablet to assist with navigation, but she accidentally turned it off. Moments later, the surviving passenger observed trees directly in front of the windshield. The pilot pulled back on the yoke to try and gain altitude, but the airplane impacted terrain.

While they were flying in the clouds, the survivor stated that she was not able to see above or below the airplane. There was no direct sunlight, and she did not have a visual contact with the ground. The moisture was accumulating on the windshield and windows, and droplets of moisture were appearing to be moving backwards. After she egressed the airplane and throughout a descent down the mountain, the survivor observed that the vegetation and soil were wet. 

The survivor stated that the pilot had purchased the tablet that was used during the accident flight just a few days prior to the accident. She said that the app that was used to navigate seemed very basic, and it was only projecting an aerial view of the earth surface underneath the airplane.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION 

The pilot, age 62, held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. A third-class airman medical certificate was issued on October 14, 2013, with the following limitation: must have available glasses for near vision. During the last medical examination, the pilot reported flight experience that included 242 total flight hours and 0 hours in last 6 months. During the investigation, the pilot's logbook was requested; however, it was not provided to the IIC and, therefore, was not available for review.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The four-seat, single-engine, low-wing, retractable landing gear airplane, serial number D-2171, was manufactured in 1949. It was powered by a Continental Motors E-225-8 engine, serial number 900601-OH, rated at 225 horsepower. The airplane was also equipped with a Hartzell two bladed adjustable pitch propeller. During the investigation, the maintenance records were requested; however, they were not provided to the IIC and, therefore, they were not available for review.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

A NTSB staff meteorologist prepared a factual report for the area and timeframe surrounding the accident.

The National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis Chart for 1700 depicted a low pressure center to the southeast of the accident site. A trough extended south from British Columbia through central Washington to the east of the accident site and into Oregon. Station models depicted wind in the region to range from 5-15 knots with variable direction. Observations were scarce in the mountainous regions.

WSR-88D Level-II weather radar imagery from Seattle/Tacoma, Washington (ATX), located about 73 miles west-southwest of the accident site at an elevation of about 370 feet, depicted some discrete areas of light (with some moderate) reflectivity in the accident region. A loop of the radar imagery indicated these areas of reflectivity were moving from the south (generally), and appeared consistent with patterns of rain.

A North American Mesoscale (NAM) model sounding depicted that the wind between the surface and about 8,000 feet was from the west at about 5 knots. Above this level through 10,000 feet, the wind backed to a south wind, and remained relatively light. Relative humidity was greater than 90 percent between about 6,000 and 11,000 feet.

There were no publicly disseminated pilot reports made within 2 hours of the accident time below FL200 within the accident region.

The satellite imagery identified cloudy conditions over the accident location, with infrared cloud-top temperatures varying between approximately 0 degrees C and -6 degrees C in the vicinity of the accident site. When considering the NAM model sounding, 0 degrees C and -6 degrees C corresponded to heights of approximately 12,700 and 16,000 feet, respectively. These figures have not been corrected for any parallax error.

An Area Forecast issued at 1245 and directed toward the Cascade Mountains of Washington forecasted broken clouds at 9,000 feet, with clouds tops to FL220, widely scattered light rain showers, isolated thunderstorms with light rain, and cumulonimbus cloud tops to FL360.

The complete weather report is appended to this accident in the public docket.

A review of recorded communication between the pilot and the Lockheed Martin Flight Service Station (FSS) revealed that on July 11, 2015, at 0439, the pilot called to obtain a weather brief and to file a VFR flight plan for the 0700 takeoff time. The briefer informed him that there was a Convective Significant Meteorological Information (SIGMET) that was in effect from 0555 until 0955 for the northern Idaho and Sawtooth Mountain Range, and Airmen's Meteorological Information (AIRMET) Sierra valid from 0600 until 1500 for mountain obscuration by clouds and precipitation. The pilot was also advised of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) due to forest fires and smoke in the area. During the conversation, the pilot disclosed that he had recently acquired a new tablet, and that he was still learning how to use it. He also acknowledged that he was not able to fly instrument flight rules (IFR) if needed. At 0458, the pilot decided to postpone his departure time. 

At 1210, the pilot called the FSS for a second weather brief. The brief indicated an AIRMET Sierra in effect for mountain obscuration across the Northern Cascades, Convective SIGMET outlook along the route, and an AIRMET for icing in the Western Cascades for altitude starting at 13,000 feet above ground level (agl). The briefer reported a surface drop through the Omak, Washington, as well as the off shore area, and indicated that the air mass for the day looked fairly moist and unstable. The briefer stated that an area forecast for Continental Divide and westwards indicated a ceiling broken at 7,000 feet agl, overcast at 10,000 feet agl, widely scattered light rain showers, and isolated thunderstorms with light rain. After 1400, the forecast indicated scattered light rain showers and widely scattered thunderstorms with light rain. The briefer further stated that the forecast for Idaho Panhandle indicated a ceiling broken at 7,000 feet agl, overcast at 10,000 feet agl, widely scattered thunderstorms, and light rain showers. For the area south of Cascades, the forecast indicated a ceiling broken at 10,000 feet agl, wide and scattered light rain showers, and widely scattered thunderstorms with light rain. For the second time, the briefer mentioned the AIRMET for mountain obscuration through the western Rockies and northern Idaho Panhandle, and indicated that he would not recommend flying in any sort of higher terrain if it was obscured.

The complete weather brief transcripts are appended to this accident in the public docket.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The accident site was located on the side of a mountain slope at an elevation of 5,255 mean sea level (msl). The airplane wreckage was spread along a 130-ft-long upsloping path through a forest of Subalpine fir trees on a 030-degree magnetic heading. The first point of impact was a Subalpine fir tree that was broken off about 100 feet above the ground. The airplane's left wing tip tank, a section of the left outboard wing, and the left aileron were found about 40 feet from the first impact point resting on the ground, and they were separated from the inboard wing section at the pitot tube. All of the components exhibited signatures consistent with impact damage. Pieces of cut wood, broken branches, fiberglass, and paint chips were scattered across the ground beginning at the first point of impact, and running along the accident site heading.

The left flap was located about 25 feet and 045-degree magnetic bearing from the left wing. The left flap exhibited minor impact damage. The terrain from the first point of impact to where the airplane's main wreckage came to rest was upsloping at an angle of about 40 degrees. The main wreckage, which consisted of the airplane's engine, propeller, cabin, right wing, left inboard wing, main landing gear, baggage compartment, aft fuselage, and empennage rested inverted with the nose of the airplane oriented to the southwest. These components were charred, melted, and consumed by fire. A burned area about 40 feet long and 40 feet wide surrounded the main wreckage. Several trees knocked down by the airplane were also located in the burned area. About a 20-foot-long Subalpine fir tree was resting on top on the main wreckage, exhibiting evidence of thermal damage. The right wing tip tank was located about 15 feet from the main wreckage, and exhibited extensive thermal damage.

The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site on July 17, 2015, by representatives from Textron Aviation and Continental Motors, Inc., under the supervision of the NTSB IIC. 

Control cable continuity was established for all primary flight controls. The left aileron drive cable and the carry-through cable were impact separated from the fractured left aileron bell crank. The aileron carry-through cable was impact separated from the fractured right aileron bell crank; the right aileron drive cable remained attached to the aileron bell crank. The elevator trim actuator position was about 5 degrees up. The flaps and landing gear were found retracted. The instrument panel was destroyed by fire.

All six cylinders remained attached to their respective mountings. The engine crankshaft was rotated by hand using the propeller. Rotational continuity was established throughout the engine and valve train. Thumb compression and suction was obtained on all cylinders except numbers one and three, which exhibited impact damage. The top spark plugs were examined, and found to be consistent with worn out normal when compared to the Champion Check-A-Plug comparison card. The left magneto exhibited a signature of thermal damage, and was unable to produce sparks. The right magneto was not located during the duration of the engine examination. The engine starter motor, alternator, and oil pump remained attached, and exhibited signatures of thermal damage. The vacuum pump remained attached and intact. The plastic drive coupling was thermally damaged. The rotor and carbon veins were intact and undamaged.

The two blade propeller remained attached to the crankshaft. The propeller spinner did not display impact damage, but indicated thermal exposure. One blade exhibited aft bending, and remained attached to the propeller hub. The other blade exhibited forward bending, and was found loose in the propeller hub.

Examination of the recovered airframe, engine, and system components revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction that would have precluded normal operation.

The complete engine examination report is appended to this accident in the public docket.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed on the pilot and the passenger July 16, 2015, by the Skagit County Office of the Coroner, St. Mount Vernon, Washington. The cause of death for the pilot and the passenger was determined to be "multiple blunt trauma injuries".

The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology on specimens from the pilot. The test did not detect a presence of carbon monoxide, volatiles, nor drugs in blood. The test for cyanide was not performed. 

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA212
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, July 11, 2015 in Mazama, WA
Aircraft: BEECH A35, registration: N8749A
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 11, 2015 about 1600 Pacific daylight time, a Beechcraft A35, N8749A, was destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering near Mazama, Washington. The pilot and one passenger were fatally injured. The second passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane was registered to, and operated by, the pilot as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight, which operated on a visual rules flight plan. However, instrument meteorological conditions were reported near the accident site. The flight originated from Red Eagle Aviation (S27), Kalispell, Montana, at about 1415 mountain standard time, with an intended destination of Lynden Airport, Lynden, Washington. 

On July 11, 2015, an Alert Notification (ALNOT) was issued for the accident aircraft. On July 13, 2015, a survivor was located on Highway 20 near Easy Pass Head Trail, Skagit County, Washington. In a verbal statement provided to Okanogan County Sheriff's Department, she reported that she was flying home from Montana with her grandparents. The airplane flew into clouds and the pilot was using a GPS to navigate with. When the airplane exited the clouds, she could see the mountain in front of the airplane. In an attempt to gain the altitude, the pilot pulled back on the yoke but he was unsuccessful. The airplane impacted terrain, and a post-accident fire ensued. The survivor attempted to extract the pilot and the other passenger from the wreckage, but was unsuccessful.

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