Sailor Guztler, the 7-year-old girl who survived a plane crash in southwestern Kentucky, walked 1½ kilometres through the cold, dark woods to safety and then helped authorities locate the wreckage and remains of her family, may not be done helping investigators.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Heidi Moats said Sunday that Sailor is "one remarkable young lady," and she might be able to assist them in determining what brought the plane down. It is rare for someone to survive a small plane crash, and Moats said they want to talk to Sailor about it.
"Having someone that is a witness [is] always helpful in the investigation. It gives us kind of a story line," Moats said.
It's not clear when investigators might talk to Sailor, who despite being bloodied and suffering a broken wrist, pulled herself from the wreckage and walked to the nearest home.
She was dressed for Florida, where her family had been visiting, and was wearing shorts, a short-sleeve shirt and only one sock when she found a home about 1½ kilometres from the crash site, which was in Lyon County about 16 km from the airport to which the plane had been diverted.
Authorities said she walked through thick woods and briar patches in near-freezing temperatures.
"She absolutely went to the nearest house that she could have," Kentucky State Police Lt. Brent White said. "But it was still a considerable feat for her to do that."
The remains of the Piper PA-34 plane were moved Sunday so officials with the NTSB can inspect it. They haven't discussed any possibilities of what brought the plane down or how Sailor survived the crash.
The agency will issue a preliminary report in about 10 days, Moats said at a news conference in Eddyville.
Sailor was treated at a hospital and released to a relative Saturday.
After the Friday night crash, Sailor trekked to the home of 71-year-old Larry Wilkins, who answered her knock at the door and called police. Wilkins said the girl was crying and covered in blood.
Point emergency crews in the right direction
"She told me that her mom and dad were dead, and she had been in a plane crash, and the plane was upside down," Wilkins said.
Sailor was alert and able to point emergency workers looking for the plane in the right direction, said Lyon County Judge executive Wade White, who arrived at the crash site.
The crash killed Sailor's parents, Marty Gutzler, 48; and his wife, Kimberly Gutzler, 46; Sailor's sister, Piper Gutzler, 9; and a cousin, Sierra Wilder, 14. All were from Nashville, Ill.
White said the father's body was "the last one they pulled out because of how deep he was buried."
Marty Gutzler was flying the plane, which reported engine trouble and lost contact with air traffic controllers around 5:55 p.m. CST, authorities said. Controllers tried to direct the pilot to Kentucky Dam State Park Airport about eight to 11 kilometres from the crash scene.
About 40 minutes later, 911 dispatchers received the call from Wilkins.
The Gutzlers had been visiting family in Key West, Fla., and stopped in Tallahassee, Fla., on the way back to Mount Vernon, Ill.
Gutzler was a licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor, according to the FAA website.
Dad ran furniture store
A woman who answered the telephone at Campagna Funeral Home in Nashville said Sunday that arrangements for Marty Gutzler, his wife and their nine-year-old daughter were pending.
Sailor's family members said through a spokesman that they do not want to do any interviews at this time because they need time to grieve.
Marty ran the furniture store that his father started, and the couple was well-known and well-liked, said neighbour Carla Povolish.
With two basketball hoops in the driveway, the Gutzlers's home was the centre of neighbourhood fun on a block full of children.
"All the kids in the neighbourhood are just so upset about this," she said.
Povolish said the two sisters — Sailor and Piper — were together constantly.
"That's what's going to be so devastating for the little one," she said.