Once a nurse, always a nurse. Tammy Saunders no longer works in the healthcare industry but that didn’t stop her from jumping into action to save three people’s lives when a plane went down near a zip lining tour group in the Alaskan wilderness.
A North Texas school group was near the Matanuska River, about 100 miles from Anchorage, when they saw a plane dropping out of the sky. The crash interrupted the zip lining session, but the students ended up witnessing a heroic rescue.
“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,” said Brett Winterbottom, the school tour guide.
Then, they saw the plane go down behind a tree in the distance.
“I looked at my coworkers and I was like, ‘Did that plane just go down, did that plane just crash,’” Winterbottom said.
Jon Brooks, a chaperone, said the group just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“There was nothing that was coincidental,” Brooks said. “We just started scrambling. Bodies started flying. People got to the right spots.”
“We heard this loud boom,” said Saunders, another group chaperone.
“I was like ‘does anyone have medical experience,’” Winterbottom said. “And she goes ‘I’m a nurse’ and I was like ‘you, with me.’”
As a former trauma nurse with over a decade of experience, Saunders was ready to step in.
“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.
Winterbottom added that the plane went down in a certain section of the river where they could easily get to them.
“It was completely annihilated,” he said. “It was folded in half, flipped upside down and just torn apart.”
Saunders and Winterbottom arrived to find the passengers, Logan Snyder, 27, Nichole Snyder, 26, and their 7-month-old child, all floating down the river on a piece of the plane wearing nothing but shorts and T-shirts.
“Babies can’t tolerate the cold at all, and I didn’t even know what his injuries were at the time,” Saunders said.
Winterbottom tied himself to an ATV and swam into the river. He reached Logan Synder and the infant and pulled them into shore. Nicole Snyder swam to shore on her own and was rescued by a private helicopter.
Saunders quickly wrapped the baby in a blanket to warm him up until an ambulance arrived on the scene. The child was taken to Providence Medical Center where they remain in stable 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 Christian school tour group was supposed to be about leadership and faith, and the kids ended up getting more of a lesson than the organizers planned.
“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.”