Two days after they were reported killed in a plane crash, two U.S. Forest Service employees emerged from the wilderness, astonishing family members who had believed they were dead and baffling rescuers still sifting through the charred wreckage in a remote part of Montana.
Jodee Hogg, 23, of Billings, and Matthew Ramige, 29, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., were spotted along a highway Wednesday, nearly 48 hours after the wreck that killed three others, officials said.
"You can't believe the elation," said Jim Hogg, Jodee's father.
Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont learned there were survivors Wednesday while at the crash site on a mountain south of Glacier National Park. He had been sifting through the burned wreckage and human remains.
"It's just an unbelievable miracle. You look at that crash site, that wreckage, you'd never believe anyone could have survived," he said. "It's incredible, truly incredible."
The single-engine aircraft under contract to the U.S. Forest Service left Kalispell Monday afternoon on a 30-minute flight to the Great Bear-Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
The four workers aboard intended to conduct an annual vegetation inventory and repair telecommunications facilities. The plane was last heard from 15 minutes later, during stormy weather.
Dupont said the aircraft went from more than 100 mph to zero in less than 40 feet.
"Who can survive that?" Dupont asked. A fire "literally melted everything."
The dead, two of whom were badly burned, were identified as pilot Jim Long, 60, of Kalispell; Ken Good, 58, of Whitefish, an employee of the Flathead forest; and Davita Bryant, 32, a Forest Service worker from Whitefish.
Good managed to get out of the wreckage, but died nearby and his body was recovered late Tuesday. There were three seat belts unbuckled, the sheriff said. "Now, I know why."
Hogg was listed in stable condition at Kalispell Regional Medical Center and Ramige was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for burn treatment. He was in serious condition Wednesday night.
"Can you imagine these families?" asked Bob Bryant, father-in-law of victim Davita Bryant. "They've been told their kids are dead. And now they are resurrected."
Linda Woods, a friend of one victim and survivor Ramige, said she and another person had organized a group to search for survivors but their offer to help was declined Tuesday.
"There were 100 people waiting in Whitefish to do this," she said. "Last night, we sat on the couch and cried instead of being out hiking and searching. And we just accepted what we were told."