Francesca "Frankie" Lewis, the 12-year-old girl who miraculously survived a plane crash in Panama, spoke today for the first time about the 52 harrowing hours she spent hanging upside down in the plane's wreckage, dreaming of home and calling out the names of her deceased travel companions.
Two days before Christmas, Lewis, her best friend Talia Klein, Talia's father, Michael, and a pilot took off from Panama's Isla Seca resort on a short sightseeing flight.
A brief time later their small plane slammed into the side of Panama's Baru volcano, hit a tree and split into two jagged parts.
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Michael Klein, Talia Klein and the pilot were killed. But against all odds, Lewis survived, though she was trapped upside down in the freezing rain, pinned by heavy suitcases, her face mere inches from the crushed cabin's roof.
"I could see the trees blowing really hard and heard crashing noises. I was afraid a tree would fall on me," Lewis said today on "Good Morning America."
But she also remained hopeful she would be rescued. She continually called out for help and struggled to remain conscious.
"I was screaming Michael and Talia's name to stay awake," she said.
News Was Bittersweet
Lewis' mother was in California when she heard the grim news.
"I was Christmas shopping. Everything seemed surreal. The idea of Christmas shopping seemed like the stupidest thing in the world," said Valerie Lewis.
Valerie Lewis flew to Panama, where she met up with Talia Klein's mother to wait for any piece of news.
With darkness falling in Panama, a rescue party could not be launched until dawn, and even then, few held out hope of finding anyone alive.
The search area covered more than 200 square miles of impenetrable jungle, pockmarked with treacherous ravines dropping to raging rivers hundreds of feet below. And the weather was turning ugly.
Nine teams of volunteers set off at first light and spent a grueling day cutting through thick underbrush, but finding nothing.
The next day, Dec. 25, searchers were walking through the jungle for seven hours, when they came upon broken glass from the plane.
Then they heard a young girl cry out, "Help me, help me!"
After they spotted Lewis, it took searchers 15 minutes to gently work her free from the wreckage.
"Her face was blue, her clothes were wet," said rescuer Miquel Burac. "We wrapped her in a blanket and in a plastic bag, something to keep her warm."
Lewis was soaking wet, and her lips and face had turned blue from the cold. The rescuers wrapped the girl in blankets and even plastic bags to warm her up.
While she was still trapped, Lewis said, "I dreamed that I was back home, so when the rescuers came I thought I was home."
When the Lewis family received the news that she had survived, they were overjoyed. Their joy was tinged, however, with sadness for Michael, Talia and the pilot.
"It was so bittersweet after what we had been through together," Valerie Lewis said of Talia Klein's mother. "Sort of being at the edge of the abyss together and then realizing that our paths were different was very difficult."
After her 52-hour ordeal alone, Lewis spent one more night on the mountain. The next morning rescuers gently carried the trembling girl six hours back to a waiting helicopter and eventually back to her grateful parents.
She says she still has some pain in her back from the injuries she sustained, but she's hoping to play volleyball again soon. She also says she thinks of her friend Talia Klein every day.
Valerie Lewis said the experience has changed the family. "It makes you think about whatever you took for granted before, and we feel very lucky every single day," she said.
The Lewis family is grateful to the volunteers who searched for the 12-year-old girl. To find out more about the search team, visit www.PanamaSearchandRescue.org.