Federal air crash investigators planned to meet with a 7-year-old girl who was the sole survivor of an airplane crash that killed her parents, sister, and a cousin in Kentucky late Friday night, hoping to find more clues about went wrong.
Sailor Gutzler told authorities she thought her family was dead but hoped they were just sleeping after she freed herself from the wreckage and walked nearly a mile through dense woods at night to find help.
Sailor had been flying home to Nashville, Ill., with her father, Marty Gutzler, 48, mother Kimberly Gutzler, 46, sister Piper Gutzler, 9, and cousin Sierra Wilder, 14. The family had flown to Key West, Fla., to visit their son/brother at a naval base and for a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Mr. Gutzler, an experienced pilot and flight instructor who had flown the same route before, radioed in a distress call at 5:55 and reported problems with one of the Piper PA-34-200T’s engines, but it remains unclear whether he gave controllers any more information about the trouble. Flight data taken from the recorder shows that he made a slow, controlled descent and then banked left toward the west, possibly to divert to another airport.
Air controllers lost all contact with the Gutzlers’ plane when it descended to about 2,700 feet. The airplane went down in a heavily wooded area Kuttawa, Ky.
Despite having a broken wrist and being dressed for Florida weather in a shorts and t-shirt, Sailor managed to climb out of the wreckage and trek through the dense woods in near-freezing conditions. She reached a private home and asked for help. The residents of that home then called 911 for help.
An air crash analyst told ABC News that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is looking for evidence of mechanical failure in one or both of the airplane’s engines while considering other factors such as the airplane’s heaviness, poor weather conditions at the time of the crash, and limited nighttime visibility.
The airplane was registered to Dr. Alan Froehling, a neuromuscular orthopedic doctor from Mt Vernon, Ill. His relationship to the Gutzler family was not immediately clear.