Sailor Gutzler, the seven-year-old “miracle” girl who survived a plane crash in Kentucky and walked almost a mile barefoot in freezing conditions to raise the alarm, used survival skills passed on by her dad to reach safety.
She was the sole survivor of the crash that killed her parents, sister and cousin and is now being looked after by her grandparents.
Using techniques learnt from her dad, Sailor lit a stick from the flames of her family’s small Piper PA-34 aircraft to help guide her through the woods after the plane crashed in Lyon Country, Kentucky on Friday.
She crossed two embankments and a river creek in darkness and near freezing temperatures, before she reached the house of Larry Wilkins, about three-quarters of a mile from the crash site.
Mr Wilkins, 71, who immediately phoned the police, said that Sailor was trembling, bloodied and wearing summer clothes when he opened his door to her.
“I come to the door and there's a little girl, seven years old, bloody nose, bloody arms, bloody legs, one sock, no shoes, crying,” he said.
“She told me that her mom and dad were dead, and she had been in a plane crash, and the plane was upside down.
“Brave little girl, outstanding little girl,” he added. “I feel real bad for her.”
In a statement, released by their lawyer, the family said: “We are devastated by this loss, but are confident that they rest in God's loving arms. We ask that you respect our privacy at this difficult time. Please pray for us, especially for Sailor Gutzler.”
Kentucky State Police Lieutenant Brent White said that the girl had a broken wrist, but appeared coherent and calm when interviewed.
He described the terrain Sailor had to traverse to reach Mr Wilkins's house as heavily wooded with thick brush.
“She literally fell out of the sky into a dark hole and didn't have anybody but her own will to live and get help for her family,” he said, “Absolutely amazing.”
Sailor was taken to Lourdes hospital in Parducah, Kentucky for treatment and was released on Saturday morning.
Sailor’s parents Marty Gutzler, 48, and his wife Kimberly Gutzler, 46, sister Piper Gutzler, 9, and cousin Sierra Wilder, 14, all died in the crash.
They were returning from holiday in Florida to their home in Nashville, Illinois.
“It’s a miracle in a sense that she survived it, but it’s tragic that four others didn’t,” Sergeant Dean Patterson of Kentucky State Police said.
Mr Gutzler, who was flying the aircraft was an experienced pilot who had been piloting light aircraft since he was 16 and taught as a flight instructor. He had made the Florida to Illinois flight, “many, many times” a family friend told NBC News.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials said that the plane had reported engine problems shortly before it lost contact with air traffic controllers just before 6pm local time.
Police received a phone call from Mr Wilkins about 30 minutes after the plane lost radio contact to report the crash and Sailor’s survival.
The plane had taken off from Tallahassee in Florida and was bound for Mount Vernon, Illinois.
Additional reporting by APReuse content