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All survive two plane crashes in Rockies; one survives twice

PURGATORY, Colorado (CNN) -- A sightseeing plane pilot survived two crashes in the snowy Colorado Rocky Mountains after his plane crashed with two passengers aboard; he went to get help, and returned in a rescue helicopter that also crashed. All passengers on each flight survived.

Search teams Thursday found the two survivors of the sightseeing plane crash, who had spent a freezing night waiting for the pilot of their plane to return with help. Efforts then turned to help the eight people who were aboard the crashed rescue helicopter, including the plane pilot.

The pilot, who walked six hours through snow until his cellular phone would work to call authorities, was guiding search teams looking for his downed plane when the Air Force UH-53 helicopter crashed.

A second UH-53 with night vision equipment flew over the scene of the helicopter crash and observed eight people "walking around the crash site," said Butch Knowlton of the LaPlata County Sheriff's Department.

All eight appeared to be in good condition, said Lt. Dan Bender of the sheriff's department. Ground teams were attempting to reach them Thursday morning.

The sightseeing plane, a Cessna 172, crashed Wednesday about 11:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m. EST) about 20 miles north of Durango, in the southwestern part of Colorado. It was on a short sightseeing trip out of Farmington, New Mexico.

The two passengers suffered injuries including a broken ankle and broken ribs, Bender said. They were unable to make the difficult hike with the pilot.

Ground teams managed to reach the two passengers just before 6 a.m. and found them to be "alert and oriented," Bender said.

An Air Force C-130 plane was also part of the search. The plane and both helicopters were from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

"Any time anyone survives a plane crash, it's remarkable," Bender said. "But it's even more remarkable in the Rocky Mountains in the winter."

The plane went down in an area of the mountains accessible only traveling by snowmobile or wearing snowshoes. Bender said the Cessna crashed onto trees, which may have cushioned the impact.

Bender said neither passenger was wearing winter clothes -- one was wearing shorts. The plane was not equipped with survival gear or blankets.

Temperatures in the area Wednesday night were in the teens to low 20s.




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