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'Miracle' Teen Autumn Veatch: Surviving Plane Crash Gave Me 'Newfound Respect for Life'

The "miracle" teen found days after surviving a plane crash in the Washington wilderness told NBC News that she has a newfound respect for life.
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The "miracle" teenager found alive days after a plane crash in the wilderness of Washington state told NBC News that she has a newfound respect for life.

Autumn Veatch, 16, was aboard a small plane flying from Montana to Washington with her step-grandparents when the aircraft crashed into a remote area in the northern part of the state.

Veatch was the sole survivor of the crash and fought her way from the burning wreckage and through dense woods for more than two days before she was found by hikers on Monday.

The teenager shared her dramatic story of survival with NBC News.

Veatch told NBC News that she and Leland and Sharon Bowman, 62 and 63, were flying over eastern Washington when they were struck with low visibility and poor weather conditions.

"Everything was white, like everything — all the windows — everything was white, and then suddenly it was just all trees, and then it was fire," she said.

After the Beech A-35 aircraft crashed into the trees, and quickly burst into flames, Veatch managed to escape, but her grandparents were trapped. She was unable to save them, suffering second-degree burns on her right hand while trying to pull her grandfather from the wreckage.

"I was just blaming myself because the flight was to take me home — and there wasn't anything I could do," she said. "It took me a long time to realize that they would be happy that at least I made it out."

Veatch left the crash site and made her way into the wilderness, following a small creek to a river and spending two nights in the forest without food.

IMAGE: Leland and Sharon Bowman
The plane's owner and pilot, Leland Bowman, 62, with his wife, Sharon, 63, of Mar, Montana.Washington state Department of Transportation

Veatch said she started feeling hopeless after the first night in the woods alone.

"It started feeling a little bit hopeless cause I had no idea where I was at all, like no clue," she said.

But she kept following the river, falling from a cliff and scaling waterfalls to try to reach civilization. On the second night, just when Veatch thought she was ready to give up, she said she began to think of all the people in her life and the things she still loved to do.

"I just got this surge of willpower and was like there's no way I can die without hugging somebody again," she said. "That's not fair at all. That's not fair to me. That's not fair to the people who care about me. And I went for the rest of the day."

Veatch finally came upon a trail in North Cascades National Park, where she found two hikers and was taken to a store in the nearby town of Mazama in northern Washington. Officials said they found a wreckage matching the description of the crashed plane in northern Washington late Tuesday.

Veatch suffered second-degree burns on her hand, additional burns on her face and back, cuts and bruising on her back and legs, dehydration, and bug bites all over from her time in the woods. She was taken to a local hospital after her rescue and released Tuesday.

Autumn Veatch recovers in the hospital with her father.
Autumn Veatch recovers in the hospital with her father.Karen Lucht / NBC News

"I have such a newfound respect for life now," Veatch said. "Spending three days wishing nothing more than to just be alive and do the simple things ... every little thing makes me feel so incredibly grateful."

Still, Veatch said she misses her grandparents and will remember their bond and the fun times they had together before the crash.

"I know they're with me but it's still, I'm going to miss them," she said. "They did so much for me."