After fatal crash, girl bravely treks to safety
By Laurel Black
The Paducah Sun
KUTTAWA – When Larry Wilkins’ two dachshunds started barking Friday night, the 71-year-old thought a raccoon was making one of its regular visits to his porch.
It was a reasonable guess: raccoons are the most likely visitors to Wilkins’ home, which is tucked at the bottom of a steep hill and surrounded by woods, briars and brush from the 2009 ice storm. Only three permanent residents live in his neighborhood, and about that many cars pass by every day.
But under the racket from the dogs, Wilkins heard a faint knock, then another. When he went to investigate, he found 7-year-old Sailor Gutzler – the sole survivor of a small plane crash that killed her parents, sister and cousin Friday evening – shivering and bloodied in his doorway.
“Her legs were just scratched up all over. No shoes. One sock. Dressed for Florida, wearing shorts and a real light shirt. And she said, ‘Do you care if I stay here? … We had a plane crash, and the plane is upside down,'” Wilkins recalled in an interview at his home on Saturday.
The wreck proved fatal for Nashville, Illinois, residents Marty Gutzler, 48, wife Kimberly, 46, and their other daughter Piper, 9. Cousin Sierra Wilder, 14, also died in the crash. Their bodies have been sent to Louisville for autopsies, the Kentucky State Police said.
The Piper PA-34 crashed about 30 miles east of Paducah in an area so difficult to access that it took emergency personnel close to two hours to find the remnants of the plane, Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White said.
But the little girl crawled from the wreckage – with broken bones in one arm, according to Wilkins and White – and scrambled nearly a mile through terrain that White said he won’t tackle without Carhartt overalls and a flashlight.
He added that given the temperatures that night, which hovered around the mid-30s, Sailor had only about an hour to find shelter.
“She could’ve gone any direction out there and not made it to anyone,” White said as he stood near the crash site. “God had hold of her from the minute that plane went down.”
Authorities said the plane, which had departed from Key West, stopped to refuel in Tallahassee, Florida, and was headed to Mount Vernon, Illinois, lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly before it crashed at 5:55 p.m. Controllers had attempted to direct the pilot to an airport five to seven miles from the crash site, the Associated Press reported.
Guided by a single light on the house’s exterior, Sailor found her way to Wilkins’ home around 6:30 p.m., the homeowner said. He propped the girl’s feet up on his living room couch, cleaned the scratches on her legs and face with a warm washcloth, and called 911. Wilkins’ dogs, Bonnie and Pete, “took right up” with the girl while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
Sailor was taken to Lourdes hospital in Paducah and released to family around 1 a.m. Saturday.
The cause of the wreck is still under investigation. Kentucky State Police guarded the site near Ky. 810 until Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived on scene on Saturday. Members of the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive Sunday morning. Officials have indicated it will take a minimum of two days to investigate the wreck, according to the KSP.
Wilkins doesn’t know if he’ll ever hear from the child who took shelter in his home, but he wishes her the best.
“She’s got to be one of the bravest little girls I’ve ever seen or heard of in my life,” he said.
Crashed small plane found in Lyon County; four found dead…
Kentucky Press News Service
Kentucky State Police report four people were found dead in the wreckage of a small airplane that crashed Friday afternoon near the Suwankee community in Lyon County.
The four were reportedly the pilot and three passengers. A fourth person, a girl, 7, walked to a nearby home and said she had been involved in a plane crash. She was taken to a hospital, officials reported.
WPSD-TV reports on its website that the FAA center at Memphis reported receiving a distress call from the small private plane in the vicinity of the crash. The distress call came around 5:55 p.m. CST.
The plane was reportedly on its way from Key West, Fla. to Mount Vernon, Ill.
The plane was found in a heavily wooded area, the station said.
The NTSB and FAA will be on the crash scene Saturday.