BOISE, Idaho – Hours after their plane crashed on a steep and snowy mountainside in Idaho, a California fireman, his wife and their adult daughter were airlifted to safety by National Guard rescuers.
The family was en route from California to Mountain Home, Idaho, when their Cessna 172 went down at about 9 p.m. MDT Saturday, leaving them with head and back injuries, officials said.
One of the three used a cellphone just after midnight to report that they had survived the crash.
A medical helicopter located the wreckage Sunday morning, but white-out conditions prevented the aircraft crew from carrying out an immediate rescue, said Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho National Guard.
Rescuers on foot traveling through 6-foot snow drifts and on 60 degree slopes reached the crash site first. They wrapped the family members in blankets and built a fire until a military helicopter could lift them out with a hoist.
"It was inhospitable for a landing," Marsano said. "The use of the helicopter was indispensable for this type of rescue operation."
The three were flown one at a time to a landing area about a half-mile from War Eagle Mountain in southwest Idaho's Owyhee County.
The first person came out about noon and the last at about 2 p.m., and each was transferred to a medical helicopter and flown to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise where they were listed in stable condition.
It's unclear what caused the Cessna to go down. Photos taken by rescuers showed significant damage, including a broken front windshield.
Authorities identified them as Brian Brown of Wilton, Calif., his wife Jayann Brown, and their daughter. Her name was not immediately available.
Brian Brown is a captain at the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department in Elk Grove, Calif. He is also Deputy Chief of Operation and Training with the nearby volunteer Wilton Fire Protection District.
Wilton Fire Chief Tom Dark said the couple was flying with their youngest daughter to Mountain Home to visit their oldest daughter. He was relieved they were in stable condition.
"That was our first concern, how he and the family were doing," said Dark. "Knowing what a good pilot he is, something had to have happened."
Dark said it was probably an unusual experience for Brown, a firefighter for more than two decades, to be on the other end of a rescue.
"When the shoe is on the other foot it's kind of strange," he said.