Newlyweds Survive Costa Rica Plane Crash

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 14, 2002 -- 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.

Their rescuer was cattle farmer Marvin Abarca Mena, a volunteer for the Red Cross who lives near the crash site. After he heard about the crash the night before, his wife begged him not to go on the search until daylight. But prior to the crash, he had had a dream about someone hanging upside down, and could wait no longer. He set out on a search before dawn, convinced that he could find the downed plane, since he knew the area so well.

Mena was hacking his way through the brush with a machete when he heard the survivors. He yelled out in Spanish, telling them to stay where they were. The farmer then slashed a path through the brush with a machete, and found Brandon first. When he pulled candy and water out of his knapsack, Brandy said, she knew they were saved.

The gash on Brandy's head required 20 stitches. Doctors found that she had also suffered internal bleeding, and suspect she may have suffered a concussion. Brandon had a concussion, shattered bones in the face, broken teeth and an infected, cut elbow. The couple had matching scars above opposite eyebrows.

Friedebold, Packard and Zuniga also survived the crash. The two pilots and the sixth passenger were killed.

The Wileys say Mena is their own angel. They saw him again for the first time on Good Morning America. Mena, who does not speak English, told the Wileys through a translator that he had heard the couple yelling out to him as he got closer to the crash site, but he did not understand anything they were saying except for when he heard them proclaim, "Oh my God!"

Though shaken by the experience, the Wileys say they have not lost their love for travel, and would like to return to Costa Rica. Mena told them that the people of Costa Rica are waiting for them.

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