ROCK SPRINGS, Wyoming — A family flying a small plane from Nebraska back to Heber City on Monday evening found themselves in trouble when they ran out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing in a freezing, remote area of Wyoming.
The pilot, Eric Holt, his wife and their children — 2-year-old twins and a newborn baby — were flying in a Piper Archer single-prop engine fixed-wing airplane when they encountered an "unexpected strong headwind" on the way to refuel in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
"I thought we had enough fuel. Literally three minutes from the airport, the engine started going out," Holt said.
"My wife asked me over the head set, she asked, 'Are we going to make it to the airport?' And I said, 'No,'" he recalled Tuesday, speaking as he returned to the site of the accident.
About 5:30 p.m., while at an altitude of approximately 8,500 feet, the plane's engine sputtered and died, according to a news release from the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office in Wyoming.
"There was just the training that kicked in," Holt said, and he successfully made an emergency landing.
The Holt family touched down in a remote desert area with "no apparent means to escape." The temperatures were frigid and the wind chill was estimated at below zero, the news release states.
The pilot was able to contact aviation authorities, who reported the situation to emergency dispatchers. Deputies learned from GPS coordinates that the plane had landed about 3 miles southeast of Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, officials said.
The rescue effort began. Because it would take search and rescue crews several hours to reach the remote location, an Intermountain Life Flight helicopter was diverted to pick up the family and take them to a hospital for evaluation at about 8:45 p.m., according to the release.
"From that point, we knew we were going to be OK," Holt said.
Cody Nish, Intermountain Life Flight pilot, was already in the area on an unrelated call to transport a patient in a Rock Springs hospital when he learned of the stranded family. Another helicopter from Ogden had been dispatched to help, but that crew was 50 minutes away.
"So we said, 'Well, we're right here. We've got our night vision goggles and we can take the flight, as long as the hospital's OK with it,'" Nish recalled.
Holt had turned on the position lights on his downed plane, so when the Life Flight crew left the hospital, night goggles enabled them to see the beacon "clear as day, so we were able to fly right to the airplane," Nish said.
He said when he got to the plane, "I could see (the pilot's) tracks right in the snow. And I mean, good on him. He did an amazing job. That airplane landed right in the snow just as it should … he did a really, really good job putting that thing on the ground."
The family was "super cold," Nish said, but uninjured. "So for them to stay there and use their body heat in that small space was the best thing to do."5 comments on this story
He said he believes the family watched a movie on an iPad while rescuers tried to reach them.
Holt said, "It's been an absolutely amazing 24 hours. We're just so thankful to be alive and for the kindness everyone has shown us."
Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle thanked his deputies and other staff members for their "dedication, diligence and selflessness" and said that the actions of all involved in the rescue brought "this potentially tragic event to a positive conclusion."