Lifestyle & Human Interest

Civilian and Nurse Help Rescue Two Adults and Baby from Plane Crash in Frigid, Remote Alaskan River


A school group from Grapevine Faith Christian School in north Texas was visiting Alaska over the weekend, enjoying a ziplining event in a rural area 100 miles from Anchorage when they unwittingly got front-row seats to a disaster.

A small plane went down, crashing into the frigid Matansuka River within sight of the zip-lining location, putting the lives of all three passengers — two adults and a 7-month-old baby — in jeopardy, according to a news release from the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

But it ended up being a mercy that the plane crashed where it did, as witnesses immediately realized an emergency was taking place — and one of the zipliners happened to be a nurse traveling with the school group.

The crash took place at about 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, and Brett Winterbottom of Glacier View, Alaska, lost no time risking his safety and leaping out into the cold water, according to the news release. He tied himself to his ATV, swam out, and was able to save a man who was on the plane as well as a 7-month-old baby.

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Tammy Saunders, the nurse from Texas, cared for the baby after Winterbottom retrieved it. She told WFAA-TV in Dallas that the waters were extremely cold and the baby needed warmth immediately.

A woman who had been aboard the plane swam to the other side of the river and was rescued by helicopter. She and the baby were flown to a hospital by helicopter, according to the release.

Thanks to quick response time and the rescuers’ actions, all three were saved. Their current condition has not been shared, but Winterbottom and Saunders have been hailed heroes for being in the right place at the right time and jumping into action.

In a Facebook post, Don Wray, owner of the MICA Guides tour group, based in Glacier View, commended everyone involved for their efforts.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my MICA Guides – Matanuska Glacier crew,” he wrote. “During a zipline event last night a plane crashed in the river right in front of them. Our most senior people happened to have been working that night and immediately jumped into action. We train for emergencies and have systems in place, though never expected to respond to a plane crash. Within minutes of the initial radio call, the crew back at base rolled out with emergency and river gear; and a quick call to the river pros at NOVA Alaska Guides, Alaska’s river and glacier guides…

“One big factor in the successful outcome was our relationship with Sheep Mountain Air- Helicopter Tours. When our Guide Manager called the pilot and said we need you NOW, no questions were asked and the helicopter launched immediately and was on scene in less than 10 minutes.

“The people survived the crash and were floating down the ice cold river before being plucked out by Brett Ryne Winterbottom. One lady got herself out but on the other side so got a quick helicopter ride to the accessible side of the river. Then we used the helicopter to scout downstream for more swimmers, not knowing for sure how many people we were looking for.

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“We’re kinda remote out here. Of course 911 was called but the first ambulance didn’t show up for almost an hour. By that time we were just waiting for the Life Flight helicopter to land.

“It was an exciting night and the cooperation of all the professional guides, helicopter pilot, our neighbors and the retired ER nurse from Texas that was just there to ride the zipline was awesome and inspiring.”

According to the Alaska Department of Public Safety’s news release, Alaska State Troopers recognized the civilians’ efforts.

“AST would like to thank the citizens who provided immediate rescue efforts and saved these three individuals!” the release stated.

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