The 7-Year-Old and the Plane Crash and Us

As most of you have heard by now, 7-year-old Sailor Gutzler survived the plane crash that killed her mother, father, sister and cousin Friday night.  The small plane landed in the middle of a Kentucky forest. Bloodied and with a broken wrist, Sailor found her way to the cabin of Larry Wilkins. According to ttsnkfeiyb

Even with the plane upside down, the 7-year-old made it out and trekked three-quarters of a mile in the dark through what Wilkins described as “very, very rough territory,” mired with fallen trees, creeks, ditches and blackberry briars.

Sailor was barefoot except for one sock and was dressed for Florida — shorts, no coat — not for slogging through the January cold of Kentucky. Wilkins got her on his couch and called 911, alerting authorities that a plane had gone down and there was at least one survivor.

One TV show quoted a medical expert talking about adrenalin and what we are capable of when we are in survival mode. I’m sure it’s true. But adrenalin or not, this horrific story reminds us of what kids are capable of: Making decisions, being brave, striking out on their own, asking help from strangers…

Let’s remember this when we are trying to decide if a kid can spend an hour or two in the park down the street. Last year, a Reason/Rupe poll found that 68% of Americans don’t think it should even be LEGAL for a 9 year old to be at the park unsupervised. We are overestimating danger and, as we can see from Sailor’s story, seriously underestimating kids. – L.

Brave young girls have a long history.

Brave young girls have a long history.

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28 Responses to The 7-Year-Old and the Plane Crash and Us

  1. sloan44 January 5, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    A very strong girl and a hero as well! There are adults I know that would not have accomplished what she did. Some people need to open their eyes and realize that kids don’t need bubble wrap. And if they fall, as I’m sure this girl did on her journey to find help, they simply get up and continue on their path.

  2. Warren January 5, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    Awesome effort and acomplishment for this young girl. Unfortunately there are already people running with this story as proof parents should never fly together on the same plane, because “when” the plane goes down, kids are orphaned.

    There will always be those that turn these great stories of how a child overcame into a negative.

  3. Laura Fram January 5, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    One other piece to the puzzle that should be written about is how her father had talked with her about survival and had taught her how to survive in an emergency.
    One of the games that I play with my daughter is, “What would you do?” Many of the stories that I come up with are based in our societal fear, but also from the real world.
    When my daughter was only 3 our microwave was sparking (microwave was off) because of an electrical problem and she altered me to the situation.
    One of my daughter’s favorite things that we do is how do you get home? We will walk in the woods and she is in charge of finding our way out.
    When my daughter had just turned 5 we were at Aquatica in Orlando and she had walked past the slide entrance and kept walking. As soon as my daughter realized she was lost she remembered what I taught her which was to go to a staff member at one of the food stands and to tell them she was lost and give her full name. My daughter knew what staff looked like and how it was safe to talk to them. I also knew quickly that something happened because I paid attention and knew the people who were immediately before and after my daughter on the walking line. I was at the designated lost child area within 2-3 minutes of realizing she was lost and had not even filled out the form when a staff member from the snack stand was walking my daughter to the lost area. My daughter was not crying because she knew she would be all right.

  4. Ceridwen January 5, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    A friend elsewhere commented on this story, ‘I hear she had survival training.’

    I mean, ??? Training, even a hands-on weekend training course, doesn’t prepare anyone for actually surviving a plane crash, seeing parents, sister and cousin, dead, and trekking through wilderness in the dark, in weather a person isn’t dressed for. And, I looked at three or four articles, and didn’t see any mention of survival training. In fact, all I saw was that the family isn’t talking to the press just now. It just seemed that either the friend is a) pushing for survival training (odd, since he doesn’t usually) or b) trying to minimize what this kid did (again, odd for this friend – it totally came out of nowhere.)

    Training or no, it’s a remarkable feat for a seven year old, or for anyone.

  5. dancing on thin ice January 5, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    Positive stories like this are great.
    How about a new hot topic category called “Capable Children” to balance all of the crazy stories?
    But I imagine it would be a chore to add that tag to the older articles.

  6. Ceridwen January 5, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    Laura, sorry, cross-posted. Where did you see the survival training?

    We used to go on long driving trips when the kids were small. We’d discuss the trip beforehand with the map, then hand the map back to one or another kid and make them the navigator. We’d also make a designated point, at malls or other busy places, to meet up if we ever got separated. I always let my kids go off and play on their own if they were so inclined, and I always discussed potential problems with them, and what they could do about each. My two eldest would find odd jobs for pocket money at the strip mall down the street; my youngest, when we moved to the country, walked all over, and even (without permission, mind) walked into town to see a friend. There were plenty of possible dangers in both places, but we made sure the kids were aware and armed with what they might do if something happened.

    Kids can do a lot more than they’re given credit for. They need to be given the opportunities, before they have to fly solo.

  7. Wendy W January 5, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    Here’s an article that mentions survival skills.

    It also gives a summary of her trek. Frankly, “survival skills” really don’t figure into it. She had the sense/knowledge to light up a torch from the burning plane so she had light, that kind of foresight is not typical of 7yo’s and probably came from whatever training her dad gave her. The rest was pure pluck and determination to hike through dense woods until she found help. “Survival skills” usually means how to find food and water, and how to build a shelter. No amount of training is going to give a 7yo the guts to hike through thru the woods at night, that takes pure courage.

  8. BL January 5, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    “68% of Americans don’t think it should even be LEGAL for a 9 year old to be at the park unsupervised. ”

    Where does this even come from? When I was ALMOST 9, I had the run of a small town of 5000 people. In fact, the very day we moved into the town I took off on my bicycle to explore the whole town while the moving van was still being unloaded (my bicycle being the first thing removed).

    It wasn’t a big deal. It really wasn’t.

  9. Suze January 5, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    I honestly believe this little gal had more wits about her then some adults would have in this situation. I have only heard about this story on the tv news … she was lucky to take off in a direction that only took her a mile out of the bush to a house. I’d love to know if she had some sense of which way to go to safety or if she just set out and continued on going “hoping” she reached help? Anyway… beyond brave and CAPABLE. 🙂

  10. lollipoplover January 5, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    What makes this story so incredulous: If this were a reality episode of Survivor: Plan Crash or a Hunger Games survival skills challenge, I don’t think people would put good odds on the 7 year-old making it out alive. We underrate our kids and their abilities constantly. The odds are NEVER in their favor. They are in constant danger of imagined (mostly) and real threats.

    I’d put my money on a savvy and quick 7 year-old over a fearful, easily traumatized adult any day of the week.
    This girl was dropped out of the sky and survived when everyone else died. I am grateful she found such a caring “helper” in Mr. Wilkins and wasn’t afraid of to ask a stranger for help. (I especially liked how he used his dogs to calm her down and showed her such kindness in an age when people won’t even answer their doors to strangers.)
    Her parents would be proud to have raised such a brave girl.

  11. Kristi January 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    When I was in third grade (32 years ago), my school bus was stuck my a load of logs that penetrated the bus when a log truck jack knifed in front of us. Three large logs entered the bus from the side, causing it to leave the highway, and strike a power pole. I killed 3 children, including my friend who was sitting with me and my 5 year old sister. My sister was only scraped and bruised, but I had my middle finger on my right hand mashed off, severe facial lacerations and my right arm was ripped open from arm pit to elbow. I remember picking up my finger, putting it in the pocket of my pink culottes, unbuttoning my shirt to wrap around my arm, and having to decide if we should stay on a burning bus, or climb down the log hanging out of the side of the bus, while live power lines popped around us. I got my sister and myself off, placed her on the other side of the highway, away from the danger and headed toward the plywood factory 1/4 mile away, where my father and uncle worked. I made it too (freaked my dad OUT)! I still remember every single detail of that day. I also remember knowing afterwards that even though horrible things can happen, I would be okay, because I knew how to not panic.

  12. Nadine January 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    Even with this accomplishment I think we need to be sensitive to the horrific trauma this girl is going through and that she should be better protected from strangers knowing her ordeal. This is not Survivor or the Hunger games but real life and for once the trauma is real. And the one thing that could make it more traumatic is if she will never be able to be free from it and everything she does will be seen as eiether the girl with the trauma or the hero that survived. Both will allienate her from her peers and takes away her possibilities for being a normal teen, college student and whatever she may become in life. Some kids will deal with this awsome and others will be smotherd by it. She should be able to step into the world on her terms and not with what all other people make of her because of this horrific experience.

  13. hineata January 5, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    Wow Kristi, marvelous that you did all that! And it is wonderful that this child got up and went looking for help, although as I commented on the last article, that is fairly standard practice for children of that age. I am not convinced that reasoning played a big part in the process. Adrenaline kicks in and the child is off to look for help.

    In fact older children with better reasoning skills might actually be at a disadvantage in a very out-of-the-ordinary situation like this.

  14. hineata January 5, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    @Warren – how ridiculous, eh?! Now, if you are the Royal family, well, that’s another story, but ordinary Joe Bloggses?

    And shouldn’t we all drive in separate cars, then? As we’re far more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash.

  15. Warren January 5, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    I would not worry. She is seven, great for photo ops, not so good for sound bites. Her fame will be very fleeting, and other than dealing with the lose of her family, she should be rather unaffected by any publicity.

  16. CrazyCatLady January 5, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    I teach my kids that if they are lost in the woods they should head downhill, find a creek and follow it. Eventually it will lead into a bigger one, that should lead to a river and houses. If they find a road, they follow it downhill as it will also lead to people in most cases.

    Sorry that this girl went through this only to have lost the rest of her family, but so glad she made it out.

  17. wahoofive January 5, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

    Why wasn’t that man arrested for suspected child molestation? He had that innocent 7-year-old nearly naked in his house, on his SOFA?? Men are all evil, dontchaknow.

  18. Tim January 5, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    I agree that kids are more reliable and capable than we give them credit for; however, I don’t agree with your last paragraph. This little girl walked until she got to a home and knocked on the door to ask for help. It was a survival situation, and I commend her for he bravery. However, that is a very different situation to leaving kinds on parks, where predators that hang out with a definite purpose, and looking for opportunities to hurt or kidnap kids.

  19. Ceridwen January 5, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Thanks, Wendy! 🙂

    That’s something. I know I would have had to do it if I were in her shoes, but sitting here, I really doubt I could have mustered up the ability. What a strong kid!

  20. Papilio January 5, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    “This girl was dropped out of the sky and survived when everyone else died.”

    Eh – that sounds a bit weird – as if it’s an accomplishment.
    One article I read about this explained that young children are actually more likely to survive accidents like this, precisely because they’re smaller and lighter, and there was something about being more relaxed so a smaller chance of bone fracture…

  21. Tanya January 5, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

    WWII story

    I have a friend whose mother survived several months on her own in the forest of Czechoslovakia until she reached Hungary where she spent the rest of the war working as a mute housemaid. She was 8 or 9 at the start of this journey.

    Of course there are many many stories like these, not just from wartime because kids are capable.

  22. Crystal January 6, 2015 at 8:49 am #

    This reminds me of the book “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales (FASCINATING, go to the library and get it!).

    Yesterday, I made my 7-year-old order for himself at a restaurant. “I’m too young to do that!” he protested. So I told him the story of another 7-year-old (this girl). It shut his complaining up pretty quickly. He ordered. 🙂

  23. BL January 6, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    ‘Yesterday, I made my 7-year-old order for himself at a restaurant. “I’m too young to do that!” he protested. ‘

    I was probably about the same age when my family had me do the same thing. Since my grandfather had ordered bourbon, I wanted the same. Needless to say, I didn’t get any, not even a “Child’s Portion”. I didn’t really know what it was, other than something my grandfather liked.

    I suppose these days I’d be arrested for conspiracy to commit underage drinking, and tried as a adult (in which case I should be able to drink bourbon, right?)

  24. Paul January 6, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    Hi Lenore,

    Another reading recommendation for you. ‘Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why’, by Laurence Gonzalez is a deeply inciteful book about the psychology of survival. A part of the book references the survival traits of small children. Often, they survive situations that would prove fatal to most adults. He gives examples and explains why the children survived while adults did not.

    I once loaned my Tae Kwon Do master the book to read as I knew he would be interested in the subject. When we later discussed the book, he said, “I’m not sure anyone should even cross a busy street without first reading this book!”


  25. Lucy January 6, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    Since we’re talking about the phenomenal strength and resilience of children, here’s another story along those lines from a few years ago. This little girl was only four years old at the time.

  26. Papilio January 6, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    “I suppose these days I’d be arrested for conspiracy to commit underage drinking, and tried as a adult (in which case I should be able to drink bourbon, right?)”

    Eh, no, not in the US anyway…

    Re all those crazy people who were relieved the stranger somehow managed not to molest this 7-year-old girl who had a broken wrist and was covered in blood (very appetizing, I know): there’s an expression ‘Ill doers (are) ill deemers’.
    Plus, even if this stranger had been an actual pedophile with a preference for girls around the age of 7 (what are the odds??), that still doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have just called 911…

  27. Rachel January 7, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    Such a horrible thing to happen to a young girl! Losing our entire families is among anyone’s worst nightmares. I agree with you, Lenore, that we can all learn about human resilience from this story, and that children develop these strengths younger than we often give them credit for.

    So, yes, if a 7-year old can walk across the wilderness, injured and shocked by tragedy, we can all feel more confident that our own kids can deal with everyday life.

    @Kristi…I read your amazing story too. Thanks for sharing it, and reminding us that we can all summon the power to deal with horrible situations when we have no other choice.

  28. Beth January 7, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    “However, that is a very different situation to leaving kinds on parks, where predators that hang out with a definite purpose, and looking for opportunities to hurt or kidnap kids.”