Ketchikan crash survivor says son died trying to save family

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. - The crash itself remains a blur, but Mindy Mayer says she remembers what happened after the sightseeing plane carrying members of her family hit the ground near Ketchikan, Alaska.

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Mayer said her son, Eric Smith, 37, of Tualatin, could have escaped the burning wreckage, but attempted to save his wife, Christine, and 3-year-old son, Trevor. Mayer's husband, David, and another passenger also died.

Mayer, 60, who lives in Oregon City, spoke about the Aug. 16 crash for the first time in an interview with The Oregonian newspaper late last week.

According to the preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the plane collided with a stand of trees shortly after taking off into strong winds.

Mayer said Eric Smith was seated in front of her and Smith's 3-year-old daughter, Allison, was on his lap.

"We were the only two people that were speaking when the plane crashed. I didn't hear anybody else's voice. I don't know whether most people were knocked unconscious when we landed or what," Mayer said.

"He was delirious and so was I," Mayer said. "My son said, 'Oh, Mom, look what's happened. My family, my family, look what I've done to my family.' "

Mayer said she could see light coming in.

"I said, 'Eric, I can get Allison out. Hand her to me.' She was awake and crying. He passed her back over his shoulder to me."

Mayer said she expected the plane to explode, and she managed to escape despite fractured ribs and broken pelvic bones.

"I don't know how I got out. I know I crawled. My goal was to get her away from the plane and away from the heat. She was on fire. I rolled her in the dirt and smothered (the flames) with my hands."

Although she could not see the plane, Mayer said, she could hear explosions.

Later, at the hospital, Mayer learned that she and Allison - who has third-degree burns over much of her body - were the only family members to survive. The pilot, who also survived, told Mayer's son-in-law that Eric died trying to save his wife and son.

"After he handed me his daughter and knew she was going to be safe, he jumped over the bench seat he was on to get to his wife and child," Mayer said. "He could have been saved right then. He could have gone right out that door with me and saved himself. He had to save his family."



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