A commuter plane carrying 17 people crashed in a mountainous area near here Tuesday night, killing eight and forcing several survivors, including one carrying a toddler, to wade through waist-deep snow to summon help.
The plane's nose was demolished and most of the survivors were seated near the rear of the plane, officials said today. The pilot and co-pilot were among those killed, authorities said.
Survivor Peter Schauer, a consultant from Booneville, Mo., walked about 1 1/2 miles from the wreckage through waist-deep snow to a house just off U.S. 160. Several other survivors followed Schauer's lead because he was the only survivor able to walk who had boots.
Calls for help were made from the house, said its owner, Thelma Tate.
Rescuers were led to the twin-engine turboprop's wreckage by the survivors' footprints.
"It took us over an hour to even get personnel to them," La Plata Sheriff Bill Gardner said.
Snow tractors and a bulldozer were used to cut a trail through the scrub oak and brush along the rolling hills and hummocks.
Four people trapped inside the wreckage were alive when rescuers arrived, but two died as they were being brought out, said Keith Rousch, a member of the sheriff's volunteer search and rescue team.
The nine survivors of the crash were transported to Mercy Medical Center with injuries that ranged from lacerations, frostbite and hypothermia to head and internal injuries, hospital spokeswoman Jane Brown said today.
Two people, including a 23-month-old girl, were treated and released, five were in good condition, one was in serious condition and one was critically injured, she said.
The plane was carrying 15 passengers and two crew members to Durango from Denver when it went down at 7:30 p.m., 10 miles east of Durango in light snowfall, said Bruce Hicks, a spokesman for Continental Airlines in Houston.
The plane's last communication indicated that it was cleared for final approach at the Durango airport, about five miles away, Greg Feith, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said.
Schauer, the survivor who led the trek for help, said the plane did not appear to have a mechanical malfunction.
"He said (the plane) was too low. He's sure the plane was functioning well," Tate said.
"(The pilot) tipped the wing and caught a tree with that tipped wing and it twirled the plane around and it just nosed into the hill," she said. "Of course, there's a lot of snow and that cushioned it so it didn't catch on fire or anything."