Young rescuers first to help plane crash victims
The village of Aniak is praising a handful of young people who lept to the aid of four plane crash survivors late Thursday afternoon. Dylan Nicholson, 13, Arthur "A.J." Simeon Jr., 20, and 17-year-olds Mason Dallmann and Trevor Morgan happened to be near a pond at the community's gravel pit when a Division of Forestry plane bound for McGrath crashed after takeoff.
“They jumped right into action and did some pretty heroic stuff to help those guys out,” Ricky Ciletti, with the Alaska Department of Transportation in Aniak, said Friday in a prepared statement. “They were in four or five feet of water … to have their heads together like that is pretty impressive."
Three firefighters and a pilot were injured in the crash. Witnesses told KTUU the passengers said the plane's engine quit after take-off, and the plane made a steep dive, landing in the pond of the gravel pit.
Forestry firefighters Albert Simon and Craig Friday of Hooper Bay, and Kelly Kehlenbach of Aniak were on board, along with pilot Mark Jordan of Eagle River. One of the crash victims has been released from the hospital, while three others remain hospitalized in stable condition.
Morgan, Simeon, and Nicholson had made an afternoon drive to the gravel pit and were about to head back to the village when they noticed a plane in the water.
"We noticed people climbing out, and that's when I turned around and went back to the plane," Morgan said. "I just knew that people were in danger and needed help."
"I carried one of the passengers, Kelly Kehlenbach, to the bank, and me and A.J. carried Kelly to my truck," said Morgan. They were also able to get Friday into the truck.
"We couldn't get the other two guys out, they were too heavy and big," Nicholson told KTUU during an interview with his mother, Mary Turner, in Anchorage.
Turner, herself a former teenage firefighter who grew up to become a community health aide in Aniak, has relocated to Anchorage to undergo treatment for cancer. Nicholson flew in Thursday night after the rescue to be with his mom, who told KTUU she is "very proud of him."
As Morgan, Simeon and Nicholson headed in the truck to the health clinic, Dallmann arrived on the scene and waded out to stay nearly 30 minutes in the water with the pilot and remaining passenger. His mother told KTUU her son, who stands six feet one inch tall, was in water deep enough to splash into his mouth and that it tasted of fuel.
“They could have been in deeper water. It dropped off quite a bit back by the tail of the plane,” said Ciletti, who also helped with the emergency response. “Somebody was watching over those boys.”
To the young men, the survivors appeared to be in shock. One had a bleeding head wound. Others had obvious broken bones and back injuries, they said. The group of friends and cousins worked to keep drowsy victims alert.
"They were calling for help and crying. It was scary," Simeon said.
Aniak City Councilman Dave Mattson told KTUU he plans to honor all of the good samaritans who helped with the rescue.
Asked what it felt like to have a hand in getting the victims to safety, 13-year-old Nicholson summed it up in three words.
"Like a hero," he said.