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Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2008

Student pilot survives crash, freezing night

March 27, 2008

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— A student pilot whose plane crashed into a mountainside survived a freezing night huddled in the tail of the wrecked aircraft and wrapped in emergency blankets, then hiked a mile through waist-deep snow wearing only shorts to meet rescuers Wednesday.

The Rocky Mountain College freshman was on a solo training flight to Powell, Wyo., when his small plane crashed into a forested slope on Big Pryor Mountain after taking off from Billings late Tuesday.

Andrew Scheffer, 18, apparently veered off course and hit near the top of the mountain about 40 miles south of Billings, authorities said.

When he met up with rescuers around 11:30 a.m., Scheffer was suffering from hypothermia.

"He ended up hiking quite a ways in his shorts and tennis shoes, in waist-high snow. He was very cold and cut up by the time we found a place to land and could hike into him," said Jon Trapp, assistant coordinator of Carbon County Search and Rescue.

He was taken to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, where he was in fair condition. He declined requests to talk to reporters.

Scheffer had stayed with the 2006 Piper through the night, Trapp said. With overnight temperatures dropping close to zero, Scheffer wrapped himself in an orange tarp to keep warm and also wore a jacket and wool cap.

The next morning, he climbed to the top of a nearby ridge and used a cell phone to contact his flight instructor to report he had survived the crash, authorities said. That call was made about 8:30 a.m., almost 12 hours after Scheffer left Billings.

St. Vincent emergency physician Michael Bush said Scheffer was recovering from frostbite, a minor concussion, and various cuts and bruises to his head, hands and kidney. Bush said he could be released as soon as today.

"He's an extremely fortunate young man to survive," Bush said. "He kept his wits about him. He was smart and didn't try to get out in the middle of the night."

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