Bleeding and alone, Sailor Gutzler, a seven-year-old girl, walked for about a mile (1.6km) through heavy Kentucky bush on Friday after surviving a plane crash that killed her family.
Sailor was barefoot and wearing only a short-sleeve shirt and shorts in near-freezing temperatures while pushing through what police described as heavy woods with thick brush. The temperature was below 40F (5C) when she knocked on Larry Wilkins’ door.
Wilkins found the thin, black-haired girl, whimpering and trembling.
“I come to the door and there’s a little girl, seven years old, bloody nose, bloody arms, bloody legs, one sock, no shoes, crying,” Wilkins, 71, said on Saturday. “She told me that her mom and dad were dead, and she had been in a plane crash and the plane was upside down.”
He called 911 and brought the girl inside, got a washcloth and “washed her little face off and her legs”.
“Brave little girl, outstanding little girl,” he said. “I feel real bad for her.”
Sailor had a broken wrist, but was coherent and calm when interviewed by authorities, Kentucky State Police Lieutenant Brent White said.
“She literally fell out of the sky into a dark hole and didn’t have anybody but her own will to live and get help for her family,” White said. “Absolutely amazing.”
Sailor was treated at a hospital and released to a relative early on Saturday, police said.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials arrived at the crash site on Saturday to examine the small Piper PA-34.
The plane had reported engine trouble and lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly before the crash, authorities said. Controllers had tried to direct the pilot to an airport five to seven miles (8 to 11km) from where the plane crashed.
Four people died, including Sailor’s parents – Marty Gutzler, 48, and his wife, Kimberly Gutzler, 46 – her sister, Piper, nine, and her cousin Sierra Wilder, 14. All were from Illinois.
The FAA said the plane had taken off from Florida and was bound for Illinois.
An attorney, Kent Plotner, who was serving as family spokesman, said they were devastated by the loss.
“We ask that you respect our privacy at this difficult time. Please pray for us, especially for Sailor Gutzler,” the family said in a statement.