'Hey, I just crashed my plane': Billings girl tells of surviving plane crash

By Eddie Gregg

The Billings Gazette

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

This Aug. 20, 2013 photo provided by the Park County, Wy., Sheriff's Department shows the site of a plane crash that flipped over slightly injuring McKenzie Morgan in northeastern Wyoming. Morgan of Billings, Mont. got lost while flying from Greybull to Fort Smith Tuesday and crashed in a rugged part of the Shoshone National Forest near the abandoned mining town of Kerwin. Two men out scouting elk on horseback saw the Cessna 172 go down and called for help. One of them met up with Morgan as she was walking out. She escaped with just some bruises.

Park County Sheriff's Department, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BILLINGS, Mont. — McKenzie Morgan, 17, walked away nearly unscathed after crashing a small plane high in the mountains near Meeteetse, Wyo., — not far from the cabin of famed pilot Amelia Earhart — during her first solo flight Tuesday night.

She was flying a Cessna 172 as part of a multi-city training flight out of Laurel ahead of getting her private pilot's license. She was supposed to return to Laurel on Tuesday afternoon; instead she crashed near Francs Peak, which is the highest point in the Absaroka Range at 13,153 feet above sea level.

Earhart's cabin sits in the shadow of Mount Sniffel, near the crash site.

After leaving Greybull, Wyo., Morgan became disoriented and started flying in almost the opposite direction of where she needed to be going, she said Wednesday night.

"I kept flying and then I got into some really rugged terrain, like, there are mountains on both sides of me," Morgan said. "I thought I was going to get speared by trees because I was supposed to be flying at 7,500 (feet). I was now at 8,500 and climbing just to stay above everything."

She continued on through the valley, which came to an end. She didn't have room to turn the plane around.

"I couldn't do it," Morgan said. A horn went off, signaling that her plane had stalled as she flew over the mountain.

"Right as I got to where I could maybe get over it a gust of wind hit my left wing and blew me over to the left . there was the side of the mountain right there.

"As soon as that wind blew me, I knew I was going down because there's nothing else you can really do at that point to save it — just try to soften it and make it as light as possible," she said.

"I was screaming."

One of the plane's wheels hit the mountain and the plane flipped and landed upside down.

Thanks in part to her lap belt and shoulder harness her only injuries were some whiplash, cuts to both little fingers and a sprained knee.

Morgan said she tried using a radio to contact someone, but without success. "At that point I gave up trying to contact anybody and started looking for all my stuff that I would need to survive out there."

She took pictures of the crash, knowing that crash investigators would be able to get the GPS coordinates embedded in the digital photos.

She also took a short video, planning for the worst and apologizing to her family and telling them she loved them.

"If nothing else, I have to try to get out of this so I can see my family again," she said Wednesday, recalling what was going through her mind after the crash. "If I don't, I feel terrible putting them through this."

Two hunters were out scouting the area of the crash at about 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Park County Sheriff's Office identified them as 26-year-old Nathan Coil of Casper, Wyo., and Joshua Alexander, 27, of Douglas.

Coil called authorities while Alexander headed to the crash site.

"I was like, 'hey, I just crashed my plane,' " Morgan remembered saying to Alexander as soon as she saw him.

" 'Yeah, we saw that. We didn't think anyone would survive. We were scared we would have to find a dead body,' " she remembered Alexander saying. "He basically just calmed me down and said 'it's all right, we'll get you safe.'"

She said they hiked for a while, but that when her sprained knee started swelling, Alexander put her on the back of his horse and got her to rescuers.

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