Child survivor of plane crash walked alone through woods for help

The home of Larry Wilkins in Kuttawa, Ky., where a 7-year-old turned up after surviving a small plane crash and walking about three-quarters of a mile through dense woods for help.
(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

Larry Wilkins was watching the evening news Friday when he heard a knock on his door. Standing on his porch was 7-year-old Sailor Gutzler, who said through her tears that she has just been in a plane crash.

Stunned, Wilkins, 71, took the child in, put her on his couch and called 911. His two dachshunds, Pete and Bonnie, comforted her until police and an ambulance arrived 10 minutes later, he said Saturday.

Through her jitters and crying, Wilkins said he pieced together that the girl had climbed out from the wreckage and walked about three-quarters of a mile through dense forest littered with fallen hickory trees in 40-degree weather.

In shorts and a T-shirt, Sailor was dressed for Florida, where her family’s plane had come from. Her arms and legs were scratched; one of her wrists was broken.

“I just can’t imagine a 7-year-old girl with enough spunk to walk through the woods after all that. That is something else,” he said. “You give her all the credit.”


Authorities said the girl — identified Saturday by a family spokesman — was the only survivor of a small plane crash in southwestern Kentucky on Friday night that killed her parents, sister and a cousin. She was released from the hospital Saturday as investigators converged at the scene of the wreckage, police said.

The Gutzler family members — Marty Gutzler, 48, Kimberly Gutzler, 46, their daughter Piper, 9, and her cousin Sierra Wilder, 14 — were flying from Key West, Fla., to Mount Vernon, Ill., when the small plane crashed in the woods near Kuttawa, Ky., police said.

“We are devastated by this loss, but are confident that they rest in God’s loving arms,” family spokesman Kent L. Plotner said in a statement. “Please pray for us, especially for Sailor Gutzler.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash of the Piper PA-34-200T, according to a statement from the Kentucky State Police. Officials said it would take at least two days to complete the investigation.

“It’s just really a miracle,” Kentucky State Police Lt. Brent White, speaking to reporters, said of Sailor’s survival.
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