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Woman survived four days in forest
after plane cash that killed her husband
MICHAEL WELLS | June 21, 2007
THE STAR NEWS

The wreckage of a single-engine plane that crashed near Yellow Pine last Thursday, killing the pilot and injuring the passenger.

A California woman survived four days in a remote canyon north of Yellow Pine after the plane in which she and her husband were flying crashed last Thursday. The woman's husband, the pilot, was killed in the crash.


The wreckage of a single-engine plane that crashed near Yellow Pine last Thursday, killing the pilot and injuring the passenger.

Suzanne Beers, 54, of Laytonville, Calif., was rescued on Sunday afternoon after surviving in the rugged area near Crater Peak about 8 miles north of Yellow Pine, which is about 30 air miles east of McCall.
Beers was spotted by a search helicopter after she tied bright strips of materials to trees, mimicking Tibetan prayer flags she had seen while on vacation.
She was flown to McCall Memorial Hospital, where she was admitted and treated for a back injury. She was released from the hospital on Monday.
The body of her husband of 30 years, Berk Snow, 55, was recovered from the crash site Monday evening, the Valley County Sheriff's Department said.

A "normal" flying day
In an interview on Monday, Beers said she and Snow had planned to be gone only long enough for breakfast Thursday morning, flying from the Johnson Creek airstrip to the Big Creek airstrip about 15 miles to the northeast.

Snow wanted to show his wife the Idaho back country and he wanted her to meet some of the "characters" who lived near Big Creek, she said.

"It seemed like a normal flying day," Beers said as she was comforted by her sister, Rosie Beers and family friend John Pfaff.

Snow had been a pilot since 1988, and Beers said they never had a close call because he was a cautious pilot.

The couple took off from the Johnson Creek strip about 9:30 a.m. last Thursday, leaving behind several other pilots and campers who were attending a fly-in at the strip.

They were flying into a box canyon north of Yellow Pine when the 1959 model Cessna 172 began losing power as Snow tried to fly the plane out of the canyon. The plane began to stall.

"Berk thought he was in the wrong drainage," Beers said. "I said does that mean we are going to crash and he said yes, and sure enough we crashed."

Beers does not remember the impact. They crashed in some small trees. The wing was damaged and the plane broke in half.

On her side of the plane, the yoke broke away and her seat was dislodged. She ended up behind Snow's chair.

"It probably saved me," Beers said. "I think the chair breaking away saved me a lot of injury."

Husband lived until evening
As the plane crashed, it lurched to Snow's side, pinning him in his chair. At impact, he hit his head on a door post.

"He stayed alive all day," Beers said. "He was breathing very hard; he died about 10:30 that night."

While Snow was still alive pinned in the wreckage, Beers did her best to keep him warm. She cut his seat belt and tried to get him out of the seat, but she could not move him because he was wedged in the plane.

She also thought his injuries were bad enough that she should not move him.
He almost vomited and she thought he could choke, so she stopped trying to get him out of the chair.

She thought that a rescue would be coming soon, thinking that everyone at the fly-in back at the Johnson Creek airstrip knew they were just going out for breakfast.

She prayed to Pfaff, who would be coming to the fly-in on Friday, that he would mount a search party for them.

She also prayed to Snow that he would help her and to God to "please help me."
When Snow stopped breathing Thursday night, she performed CPR for an hour to no avail.

"I didn't want him to die, please live," she said.

"He didn't suffer, I didn't think," Beers said. "I kept him warm the whole time."

"She took care of her husband, she did everything for him," said Leila Snow, 53, Berk Snow's sister from Eugene, Ore. "She made sure he was warm; she kept the animals away."
Beers tried several strategies to get the attention of planes flying overhead.

Signal tire not good enough to draw attention
First, she built a fire to create a smoke signal. She thought it worked in the movies.
"So, I built this fire; oh, this is going to work," she said. "In the morning, it blew down the canyon and then it blew up the canyon. I can't rely on this."

Building and maintaining the fire was a difficult task for Beers. She had suffered a compression fracture in her back and had a cut on her neck and several bruises and abrasions from the crash.

As she took care of her husband and built the fire, she had to lie down several times due to the pain from her back.

The plane was well stocked with emergency equipment. She had Mylar sheets, a bright red plastic cover, flares and a mirror-like signaling device, food and water. She also found some bandages on Friday that helped ease the pain in her back.

Beers tried to get search planes to see her with the signaling device.

"You can do it to the planes, but they have to look," she said. "At least 30 planes flew over and none of them saw me."

She kept a journal to keep track of the days. The journal entries were the same each day: "Many planes overhead, no one sees me."

On Friday, she noticed a definite traffic pattern. Planes seemed to be flying over a ridge toward Johnson Creek.

She left the wreckage of the plane on Saturday and hiked about four miles to a ridge to try to signal a plane. She had a backpack and a large duffel bag with supplies.

Search started on Saturday On Friday, Pfaff arrived at the fly-in and noticed his friends were not there. On Friday night, he began to worry, so he walked down to the couple's campsite.

"I noticed they left their toothbrush and Berk's flight bag," Pfaff said. "I looked at that flight bag and I said I know this guy way too well, he's not going to go away for several days without his flight bag."

"I knew something was wrong," he said. "So I said if they are not here by Saturday morning at 8 o'clock, I would get the ball rolling."

Saturday morning came with no sign of Snow and Beers, so Pfaff began calling authorities. He called the Valley County Sheriff's Office and the FAA.

Deputies arrived and began going through the campsite, taking reports and photos, but a search was not mounted until Saturday afternoon.

The FAA in Prescott, Ariz., told Pfaff that they had not detected any emergency locator transmitters, which are mounted on light planes and activate on impact.

By Sunday, Beers was on the ridge and decided she needed help. She remembered a trip she took with her husband to the Himalayas in Nepal. She remembered the Tibetan prayer flags and decided to invoke their help.

She tied Mylar strips to trees and kept praying.

"I felt a connection to something when I tied those prayer flags up there," she said.

Her prayers were answered about 3:30 p.m. Sunday when a search aircraft spotted her on the ridge waving a bright red sheet of fabric that had been stored in the plane.

After the location of Beers was pinpointed, Pfaff got a ride with Peter Schiff, a helicopter pilot from Cookeville, Tenn., who was at the fly-in. As they flew to the canyon, Pfaff saw Beers wrapped in the bright red plastic sheet and he knew it was her.

The helicopter he was in could not land on the steep slope, but a Life Flight helicopter based at the McCall airport was able to set down in a clearing.

Beers said it seemed like a long time between when she was located and when she was
rescued. She set off all of her flares and was waving at the aircraft overhead.

"It was exhausting, so finally I laid down but kept waving to them," she said.

An EMT from the Life Flight crew hiked to her and assessed her injuries. He then helped her back to the helicopter for the flight to McCall.

Crash survivor, family members issue thanks

Suzanne Beers, John Pfaff and the Snow and Beers families wish to thank all who were involved in the search for Berk Snow and Beers, whose light plane crashed near Yellow Pine last Thursday, killing Snow.

The families also thank staff members at McCall Memorial Hospital for the medical treatment received there.

Pfaff especially wanted to thank Eric Hays and Debbie Murray at the Johnson Creek airstrip for their help and the use of the it telephone.

They described the help they received by authorities as professional, courteous, gentle and truthful.

 

 

 

 

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