“She told me that her mom and her dad were dead, and she was in a plane crash, and the plane was upside down,” Wilkins told NBC News. “She asked if she could stay here. I said, ‘Honey, what can I do for you?’ I got a washcloth and cleaned her up. And of course called 911.”
The girl, identified by AP as Sailor Gutzler, managed to walk nearly a mile in the dark through territory full of “fallen trees, creeks, ditches and blackberry briars,” according to CNN. She was taken to a hospital where she is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, CNN reported.
Authorities say the girl was one of five people flying in a Piper PA-34 over Kentucky when it reported engine trouble and lost contact with air traffic controllers about 5:55 p.m. Central time, according to the Associated Press. Authorities said the plane had taken off from Tallahassee Regional Airport in Florida, and was headed to Mount Vernon, Ill., according to the AP.
Authorities discovered four victims at a crash site “in a heavily wooded area near Kentucky Lake,” according to the AP. Police identified them as Marty Gutzler, 49; Kimberly Gutzler, 45; their daughter, 9-year-old Piper Gutzler; and her cousin, 14-year-old Sierra Wilder. All the victims were from Nashville, Ill.
“This girl came out of the wreckage herself and found the closest residence and reported the plane crash,” Sgt. Dean Patterson of the Kentucky State Police told the AP. “It’s a miracle in a sense that she survived it, but it’s tragic that four others didn’t.
Investigators from The National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive at the crash site Saturday, according to NBC.
Reflecting on the strange turn of events, Wilkins told NBC that he wishes he could have done more for the girl.
“I felt so sorry for her, tears come to my eyes,” he said. “Seven years old. Brave little girl.”