Couple credits courageous pilot in fiery rescue in Kake

Man helps pastors out of aircraft after emergency landing

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The new pastors for the Kake Assembly of God are feeling extra prayerful after being pulled from a Cherokee Six airplane that caught fire Monday in Kake.

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Juanita and Terrance Watkins were heading back to their home in Tucson, Ariz., when the plane filled with smoke just above the Southeast village. The LAB Flying Service pilot made an emergency landing and pulled them out of the aircraft, which was a total loss.

"It was a bad scenario," Juanita Watkins said. "If it hadn't been for the Lord and that young man, we'd have been in Heaven instead of Tucson."

"We were losing our breath," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. "He saw the sight of the runway out the window and slammed the plane down because he knew it was down there somewhere."

After the plane landed, the pilot ran around and opened the latch.

"He kicked the door open and shouted, 'Get out of here!''' she said.

The pilot, whom she identified as Rich Anderson, pulled Terrance Watkins out of the aircraft. Terrance pulled her out, she said.

"We could not get our breath," she said. "It was scary."

The company had no comment other than saying the aircraft was a total loss. The Federal Aviation Administration was expected to investigate the incident, though no investigator could be reached on Tuesday.

The Watkins are ordained ministers who live in a mobile home retirement community in Arizona, where they also lead a church. They had stayed in Kake for about two weeks, accepting the pastorate after visiting the town for the first time.

Though new to Southeast, they lived in Alaska in the past, leading churches on the North Slope and Fairbanks.

As they started flying out of town on Monday, Juanita Watkins had a moment to reflect on planes and fear.

"I was sitting back and I said, Lord, I am so thankful I'm not afraid to fly on these things. I no sooner said these things than smoke filled the cabin."

On Tuesday, she was safe at home, reunited with her 4-pound Chihuahua, Precious. The Watkins will return to Kake in about two months with Precious in tow, though maybe not by air.

"She's going with us this time - on the ferry."

• Contact Ken Lewis at 523-2263 or ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.



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