Colorado newlyweds Brandon and Brandy Wiley were looking for adventure when they quit their jobs and set out for Costa Rica with only their backpacks and a shared suitcase.
Two days later they were lying injured in a dark South American jungle amid the wreckage of a single-engine Cessna. The small plane that was taking them to their beach destination crashed 50 miles southwest of San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, on Nov. 28.
Brandon Wiley said the crash occurred quickly and in seconds everything went dark. "I knew I couldn't see," Brandon said. "I didn't know if it was just dark, or if my eyes weren't working. I heard Brandy's voice immediately."
Swallowed by Clouds
The Englewood, Colo., couple had planned to spend about four months exploring the Central American country's western coast. Two days after their arrival in San Jose, Brandy, a 27-year-old nurse, and Brandon, a 28-year-old salesman, boarded the Cessna, which was carrying four other passengers and two pilots.
Unknown to them, the small plane was planning to make a stop in Quepos, a town on the west coast, before stopping at their final destination. That was where the trouble struck. Thick clouds swallowed the Cessna about five minutes before it was scheduled to land in Quepos. The Wileys noticed the clouds and — in what seemed like a flash — the plane went down, shaking violently as it hit the top of a canopy of trees.
The plane crashed in a jungle area beside Chontal Mountain.
The next thing the Wileys remember is coming to after the crash. Both had been strapped into their seats, which were ripped from the plane's floor. "I heard Brandon say, 'I'm stuck, I can't get out' and all I could do was reach over and undo his seatbelt," Brandy recalled. "That's the last thing I remember until we were both out of the plane."
Survivors Gather Together
The next thing Brandy remembers is sitting on a log near the plane, about 10 feet away from her husband. She had a large gash on the side of her head, and was temporarily blinded in her right eye, though she recovered her vision after several hours.
Brandon, who suffered various injuries including damaged ribs, was able to walk. He remembered smelling two scents very strongly: fuel and blood.
The first passenger the couple saw was Silke Friedebold, a German woman who stumbled out from behind the plane. They also found two others who were more seriously injured: another American, Michael Packard, and a Costa Rican man, Alvaro Zuniga.
All five gathered together. Brandy, a nurse, attempted to bandage Packard, who had severe cuts on his head and was bleeding profusely.
Those who were able to walk gathered clothing for warmth and set up plastic bags to collect rainwater. As night set in, the temperatures dropped to the 50s. Throughout the night, the Wileys called to the other American visitor, Packard, who seemed to be slipping in and out of consciousness.
Found By Local Farmer
At about 4 a.m., the couple heard rustling and were worried they might fall prey to the wildlife in the jungle, home to jaguars and snakes. As the night went on, they heard monkeys howling, and saw tarantulas crawling past. An hour later, Friedebold saw lights on an adjacent moutainside and started screaming. The Wileys joined in with the yelling, then started a fire, using papers, tampons and other burnable items they were able to rustle up.