Investigators are combing the frigid scene outside St. Marys, Alaska, where a small plane carrying 10 people went down on November 29, killing four.
A 5-month-old baby was among the fatalities, as were the pilot and a retired couple. The baby’s mother is being hailed as a hero for hiking nearly a mile across sloping, slippery tundra to guide rescue workers to the site.
Three of the four victims were from Mountain Village, about 25 miles from the crash site. The single-engine Cessna 208 was due to land in St. Marys but crashed four miles outside the predominantly Native village of 500 in foggy, frigid conditions, according to reports.
The Alaska Dispatch said the dead were Mountain Village residents Rose and Richard Polty, aged 57 and 65, respectively; 5-month-old Wyatt Coffee, also of Mountain Village, and pilot Terry Hansen, 68, of Bethel, Alaska.
Melanie Coffee, Wyatt’s 25-year-old mother, reportedly called emergency services in St. Marys as she tried to save the life of her critically injured baby. Suffering chest trauma and other injuries herself, she left the boy to get help and hiked to the village landfill, where she encountered residents and health responders who were out looking but having trouble finding the site. Coffee was in fair condition at the Alaska Native Medical Center, a spokesperson told CNN on December 1.
Although emergency responders got there as soon as possible, the site was remote and difficult to access, and local residents and health workers were credited with saving lives. National Transportation Safety Board personnel are investigating what led to the tragedy.
"The people on the ground, they're the ones who should get the credit," Clifton Dalton, a paramedic for LifeMed Alaska who flew into the village to help evacuate victims, told the Anchorage Daily News. "They're the reason there are so many people that survived."
Dalton also praised Coffee’s heroism.
"The fact that she could make it out to an identifiable landmark really helped to expedite the aid that the rest of the patients were able to receive," he told CNN. "What's really remarkable about it is that she was tending to her infant child that was gravely injured at the time."