DAVID, Panama - A 12-year-old California girl who was the sole survivor of a small-plane crash was reunited with her family yesterday after rescuers trekked for five hours to carry her out of a remote mountain area, then airlifted her to a hospital.
The girl, Francesca Lewis, wearing a neck brace and with one arm bandaged, met with her parents at a hospital in the town of David, capital of Chiriqui province.
Michael Klein, 37, a prominent California businessman, and his daughter Talia, 13, a friend of Francesca's, were killed in Sunday's crash of the Cessna 172 near the jungle-flanked slopes of Baru volcano, 270 miles west of the capital, Panama City. The Panamanian pilot, Edwin Lasso, 23, was also killed.
Francesca was in stable condition at a private hospital with hypothermia, contusions and muscle injuries and does not remember much about the crash, said Samuel Cattan, the doctor treating her. "She lost consciousness," he said, "and she only remembers [the plane] falling into a cloud, and then she saw trees."
He said Francesca would probably remain hospitalized for at least a week.
Francesca's mother, father, uncle and sister traveled to Panama from the United States to care for her. Earlier yesterday, her mother, Valerie Lewis, said that her daughter could walk but had apparently suffered a broken arm and hypothermia.
"My husband spoke to her by phone this morning," Valerie Lewis said. "She sounded good. She just said: 'Hi, Daddy. See you soon.' "
Rescue workers struggled for five hours against heavy rains and high-altitude winds to carry Francesca by stretcher from the crash site to a spot where a helicopter could land, said the Chiriqui civil protection director, Armando Palacios.
A preliminary investigation showed that the plane struck a tree and split in two, said Roberto Velasquez, the national civil protection director. "It is miraculous that the girl could survive that impact," he said.
Rescuers spent two days combing the mountainous area before finding Francesca and the bodies of the others Tuesday. But cold, wet weather prevented her immediate evacuation.
Michael Klein was chief executive officer of Pacificor L.L.C., a Santa Barbara company that manages several hedge funds. He founded two companies in the 1990s before becoming president and chief executive officer of eGroups Inc., a large group e-mail communication service. Yahoo Inc. bought eGroups for $450 million in 2000; it is now known as Yahoo Groups.
Aviation authorities said the cause of the crash was not yet known, but Panama's RPC radio reported that witnesses saw the plane flying low around noon Sunday amid buffeting winds.