Panama Plane Crash: Inside the Amazing Rescue Mission


It's hard to imagine how a child survived over 50 hours alone, trapped in the wreckage of a small plane. Some of Frankie's memories are sketchy, but others are clear, like the moment just after the crash.

"I started screaming, trying tro get other peoples' responses, calling Talia and Michael's name. But no one responded, so then I knew I was alone," Frankie said. "I didn't understand that what was on top of me was my seat. I didn't understand that what was above me was the bottom of the plane."

There is little doubt that if Frankie had freed herself and wandered through the jungle in only her t-shirt and shorts, she would have died of exposure.

By early the next morning, the additional rescue team reached the wreckage, carefully placed Frankie on a stretcher, and slowly carried her down the mountain. The route was incredibly steep and stressful, and the journey took more than four hours.

Halfway down the mountain, one of the rescuers made a call that reached Frankie's dad.

"She said in this very clear, distinctly her own, voice, 'Hi, daddy,' and, of course, my heart just melted," Lewis recalled.

The rescuers noticed that Frankie's face changed after she spoke to her father — she seemed more animated and determined to survive. The exhausted rescue team arrived with Frankie at a high mountain clearing where rescue helicopters were waiting, and she was flown to a hospital in the nearby town of David.

'We Are Connected Forever'

"When we saw her come off the helicopter, you could really sense that survival mechanism that was enveloping her," said Valerie Lewis. "Her body did part of it, her mind did part of it, that just kept her protected so she could survive."

Frankie survived 52 hours of exposure to cold and rain high on a mountain. After his daughter's miraculous rescue, Kirk Lewis headed up the mountain to help turn the crash site into a memorial.

"It was a quest for knowledge," Lewis said. "How could she have possibly survived? Seeing the terrain, seeing what it took to bring her back down."

With Frankie gaining strength, she and her family visited the rescue command center. Many of the rescuers were filled with emotion as they spoke of how moved they were by her miraculous survival.

"It's so hard for me to even think that it's true, even though people are telling me. It's like, 'No, that's not true. It's just a dream. Or a nightmare.'" Frankie said.

In recent weeks, Kim Klein has struggled with unbelievable grief. She has attended numerous tributes to her daughter, and hopes that Talia's memory will not be forgotten.

"I want people to see and carry on Talia's goodness," Klein said. "If Talia was here to grow up, she would have done amazing things. Capable of anything. I want people to see that."

For the Lewis family, who returned to Santa Barbara a few days after New Year's, a part of them will always remain in Panama.

"We can't just get on a plane and go back to our own world, when we've been so touched by this world, and we are connected forever," said Valerie Lewis. "And Frankie will be."

CLICK HERE to find out more about the rescue and the town of Boquete.

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