Alaska Plane Crash: Rescuers Describe Harrowing Mission That Saved Four Lives

Two days after the plane carrying former Sen. Ted Stevens and 9 others crashed into an Alaska mountain, harrowing new details about the ill-fated trip and the aftermath are coming to light.

Inside the tiny, twisted wreckage, four survivors spent a horrific night. The living and the dead were trapped inside the plane, shoulder to shoulder for hours.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for the latest on the crash tonight on ABC.

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Alaska Plane Crash: Samaritans Helped Save Survivors

Some of the few rescuers who made it to the steep mountainside, including three good Samaritans, were dropped in by aircraft under dangerously low visibility.

Today, they described an impossibly slick, muddy slope – so treacherous they had a hard time just standing up as they tried to pry the plane open.

"There was just one survivor outside the plane under the wing and that's where he had spent the night," said Master Sgt. Jonathan Davis, one of the first National Guardsmen on the scene. "He was one of the younger ones."

Crash Survivors Spend Night in Wrecked Fuselage

Thirteen year old William Phillips survived the crash, only to watch his father die before his eyes. Former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his son were hurt, but alive. The body of Stevens, who apparently died on impact, was confined along with them inside the tiny fuselage.

"I think they did have thoughts of their friends that were next to them but also a lot of their energies was going towards their survival and the will to live," Davis told ABC News.

Survival seemed to be a lottery. One passenger in the front seat survived and rescuers strung a tarp over the cockpit to keep him dry. The pilot sitting next to him died in the crash, his body still strapped into his seat.

Smell of Fuel Overwhelmed Crash Site

Rescuers say the smell of fuel was overwhelming and they worried about starting a fire by using power tools to free the passengers. They took the risk and it worked – dragging all nine out through an opening in the back of the plane.

The plane cut a hundred-yard gash in the mountain, as if the pilot realized at the last minute he was flying into a hillside but couldn't pull up in time. Rescue teams say the three good Samaritans who hiked in and spent the night at the crash site could have made all the difference between life and death.

"They were rock stars just to get there in the first place in the weather. Before it shut us out, they flew to just above the ridge line and again walked through those alders that are nearly impossible to move through to get to the site, and sat and monitored those patients overnight, kept them alive, kept their spirits up," said Technical Sgt. Kristofer Abel.

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