Airplane parts were strewn over the hillside as Chris Burgeson scrambled down the slope.
At the bottom, strapped into the remains of a Piper Cherokee that lay nose-down at a 45-degree angle, was a 16-year-old girl, bleeding, barely alive and hanging from her seat belt."I could hear her making noise - wailing and moaning," Burgeson said. "At one point she said, `Help, help.' "
The pilot's seat and the pilot, 19-year-old Jeff Fairfield of Hailey, were nowhere to be seen, Burgeson said in a phone interview from Roscoe, Mont.
Burgeson, a 35-year-old artist, was visiting the Ketchum area this week to do some painting. His presence on a secluded mountain ridge Tuesday has been credited with saving 16-year-old Joy Smith's life.
Tuesday afternoon Burgeson hiked to the Pioneer Cabin northeast of Ketchum to take pictures. On his way back down, the airplane flew in and crashed, he said.
Fairfield and Smith, also of Hailey, took off from the Friedman Memorial Airport in a rented plane only a few minutes before. When Burgeson first noticed it, the plane was already flying low.
It was coming up the canyon, not very far above the treetops.
"It looked as though the pilot was aware he wasn't going to make it over the ridge, and he turned down the canyon," Burgeson said. "Suddenly the nose dropped, and the engine noise got louder."
The plane then disappeared behind some quaking aspens.
"I didn't see it actually hit," Burgeson said.
The plane apparently hit the ground nose first, then slid down the slope, scattering parts as it went. It came to a rest among the rocks and trees of Corral Creek's dry bed.
"I got down there as fast as I could," he said.
He found Smith semi-conscious in the wreckage.
It was obvious both her legs were broken. She was bleeding and her breathing appeared difficult. It was about 6:15 p.m.
He released her seat belt and pulled her from the plane. Though fearing to move her, he carefully laid her on the ground and covered her with his sweater.
Burgeson started down the hill toward town for help. About 100 feet from the plane he found the pilot's body. Fairfield, who had rented the plane, had been flying since he was 17, friends of his family said.
Gauging his position from the contour of the creek, Burgeson ran down the hillside toward his van. In less than an hour he was at the hospital in Sun Valley.
With search and rescue paramedics, he headed back up toward the wreck. In the quickly falling darkness it took nearly two hours to locate the plane.
When her rescuers arrived, Smith was fairly coherent, Burgeson said. "She was amazing, she was tough. She even put her arms into the sweater."
The paramedics went right to work.
"They're a great bunch of guys. They really knew what they were doing," Burgeson said. They got Smith on oxygen, started an intravenous solution and put her on a stretcher.
Then it was back up the slope to the ridge and the rescue helicopter.
The first quarter-mile to half-mile was steep, Burgeson said. Then they followed the trail the rest of the way up.
Struggling with the stretcher on the steep slope in rough terrain and darkness, the rescuers took two hours to make the top near midnight.
The helicopter took Smith to the Magic Valley Regional Medical Center, where her condition Friday evening remained critical but stable in the intensive care unit.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are conducting a joint investigation of the accident, said Bob Rountree, aviation safety inspector of the FAA.
The two agencies have completed their on-site investigation and are examining records. Investigation records will be sent to the NTSB in Washington, D.C., which will issue a report in six months to a year.
Services for Fairchild were scheduled Saturday afternoon in Hailey.
Burgeson, who has no permanent home since a recent divorce, plans to move to Ketchum next month. He has been painting seriously since 1975, he said.