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'Nothing that was coincidental': North Texas nurse among group involved in harrowing rescue of two adults, baby in Alaska plane crash

Students and chaperones from Grapevine Faith Christian School were on a leadership retreat in Alaska when a plane crashed near them.

DALLAS — A North Texas school’s trip to Alaska included a life-saving rescue that they believe had nothing to do with luck.

“There was nothing that was coincidental,” Jon Brooks, a chaperone on Grapevine Faith Christian School’s trip said. “We just started scrambling. Bodies started flying. People got to the right spots.”

The group was 100 miles northeast of Anchorage, along the Matanuska River, finishing up a zip line tour when their guide, Brett Winterbottom, saw a plane circling far lower than it should have been.

“This plane that was coming in, we all saw it because it was really low, and we were concerned he didn’t see the zip line,” he said.

Then, it went down behind a tree line.

“I looked at my coworkers and I was like, 'Did that plane just go down, did that plane just crash,'” Winterbottom said.

“We heard this loud just boom,” Tammy Saunders, another group chaperone, said.

Saunders previously worked as trauma nurse for more than a decade in Dallas and trained as an air transport EMT.

“I was like 'does anyone have medical experience,'” Winterbottom said. “And she goes 'I’m a nurse' and I was like 'you, with me.'”

“When I saw the water and the rush of the river, I knew that it was critical that we had to get them out of the water,” Saunders said.

As remote as the area is, Winterbottom says the plane just happened to go down in the one spot in a 60-mile stretch of the river where they could get help.

“It was completely annihilated,” he said. “It was folded in half, flipped upside down and just torn apart.”

Logan Snyder, 27, Nichole Snyder, 26, and their 7-month-old child were all on board, floating down the river on top of the flipped over plane in t-shirts and shorts, according to Winterbottom.

“Babies can’t tolerate the cold at all, and I didn’t even know what his injuries were at the time,” Saunders said.

Winterbottom tethered himself to an ATV, swam in and grabbed Logan Snyder and the child. Nichole was able to swim to shore on her own and was rescued by a private helicopter. 

Saunders quickly tried to warm the child until a LifeMed Air ambulance could arrive. Providence Medical Center, where the child was taken, reports he is in fair condition.

“They were severely injured and traumatized and soaking wet in 35-degree water for like 10 minutes before they were able to like really be rescued,” Winterbottom said. “Just the willpower that they showed and the desire to live was incredible.”

The school trip was designed to be about leadership and faith, and that’s exactly what they believe was on display to keep the family of three alive.

“Thirty seconds later and we lose a number of people,” Brooks said. “We’re down to seconds and the right people being in the right spot.”

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