Breaking News Emails
The teen who died in a plane crash over Kentucky while returning home from vacation with her aunt, uncle and little cousins, often went away with the family to take care of the younger girls and always cherished the time with them, her mother told NBC News on Sunday.
“She loves going. It was going to be the highlight of her Christmas vacation,” Jami Smith Lane, the mother of 14-year-old Sierra Wilder, said of the trip from the family's hometown of Nashville, Illinois, to Key West, Florida.
The sole survivor of the wreck was Sierra's cousin, Sailor Gutzler, 7, who managed to climb out of the plane and trek through woods and a creek to a nearby home to seek help.
Sailor's father, Marty Gutzler, the pilot of the Piper twin-engine aircraft, also died in the crash along with his wife, Kimberly, and their daughter, 9-year-old Piper.
Lane said her daughter enjoyed dancing and was always willing to help take care of her three younger brothers. Sierra was "very kind to everybody and anybody, even if she didn’t know them,” Lane said, adding, "she was my best friend."
Sailor was treated for broken bones at a hospital in Kentucky and was in the care of family Sunday, family spokesman, Kent Plotner said.
A fund has been set up for the young girl, who family said used survival skills her father taught her in order to seek help.
Family members on Saturday had said Sailor had lit a stick on fire to find her way, but Kentucky State Police said Sunday that she hadn't been able to find anything to ignite from a fire burning on the wing of the plane.
Still, Sailor was able to navigate three-quarters of a mile, without shoes in 38 degree weather, until she saw the light from a home.
"She is one remarkable young lady," said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Heidi Moats at a briefing on Sunday.
Six NTSB investigators arrived on the scene of the crash Sunday morning and removed the wreckage of the plane for evaluation later in the day. Moats said a preliminary report could be expected in ten days, but a full investigation could take a year.
Moats said NTSB agents were planning to interview Sailor after talking to her family . "Having someone that is a witness always helps us in the investigation," she said.