KUTTAWA — A 7-year-old girl who survived a plane crash in rural Kentucky had trekked about a mile without shoes in near-freezing temperatures in order to find help, a witness told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Bloodied but free of major injuries, the girl knocked on the door of the first home she found — that of Larry Wilkins of Kuttawa, Kentucky. He was stunned when he opened the door Friday evening, only to see a young girl bleeding from various injuries and sobbing.
“I come to the door and there’s a little girl, 7 years old, bloody nose, bloody arms, bloody legs, one sock, no shoes, crying,” Wilkins, 71, told The Associated Press in an interview 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.”
Kentucky State Police Sgt. Dean Patterson said Federal Aviation Administration officials have arrived at the scene to try to determine why the small Piper PA-34 crashed as it flew over rural southwestern Kentucky early Friday evening.
The plane had reported engine trouble and lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly before the 5:55 p.m. CST crash, authorities said. About a half hour later, emergency dispatchers received a call from Wilkins, who reported that a girl who had been involved in a plane crash had walked to his home.
The girl was treated at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah, Kentucky and released early Saturday, Patterson said.
“This girl came out of the wreckage herself and found the closest residence and reported the plane crash,” Patterson said. “It’s a miracle in a sense that she survived it, but it’s tragic that four others didn’t.”
Patterson said the girl was the daughter of the two adults who died in the crash, Marty Gutzler, 48; and his wife, Kimberly Gutzler, 46. Also killed in the crash were the girl’s sister, Piper Gutzler, 9; and a cousin, Sierra Wilder, 14. All were from Nashville, Illinois. The bodies have been recovered and sent to Louisville for autopsies.
In Nashville, a man stepped outside the family’s white, split-level home on Saturday and politely waved off a reporter.
“Not now,” he said, his head lowered, before he stepped back inside.
Neighbors said Marty and Kim Gutzler had lifelong roots in the largely rural southern Illinois town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of St. Louis.
Marty Gutzler ran the furniture store that his father started, and the couple was well-known and well-liked, said neighbor Carla Povolish.
With two basketball hoops in the driveway, the Gutzlers’ home was the center of neighborhood fun on a block full of children.
“All the kids in the neighborhood are just so upset about this,” she said.
Povolish said the two sisters — the crash’s lone survivor and the one who perished — were together constantly.
“That’s what’s going to be so devastating for the little one,” she said.
The FAA said late Friday that the plane had taken off from Tallahassee Regional Airport, Florida, and was bound for Mount Vernon, Illinois. Patterson said the girl who survived indicated that the plane had left from Key West, Florida.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board also were expected to get to the scene later Saturday, Patterson said.
The pastor of a church near the crash site said the area was known for rough terrain and that the conditions Friday were wet due to persistent rain.
“That area is very rough and hilly, very heavily forested with mature trees,” said the Rev. Dean Weber of the Chestnut Oak United Methodist Church in Kuttawa. “Any plane crash in that area is going to be a severe ordeal.”
BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press___
AP reporter Jim Suhr contributed from Nashville, Illinois. Adrian Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.
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