How iPad saved hypothermic father, daughter plane crash victims in heavy snow, subfreezing temperatures

'I never expected to find two people alive,' a rescuer said

BEAR CREEK TOWNSHIP, Penn. – A father, 58, and daughter, 13, took off in a small plane from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport about 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. The plane disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff over a densely forested area in the Poconos.

The Wilkes-Barre Station of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) finally got a call for help about 8:30 p.m., already a two-hour delay because no one could identify the exact location of the crash site.

"And at that time, they were looking at a recovery," said Sergeant John G. Richards.  

He continued, "We all thought it was going to be recovery just due to the heavy snow that was falling, the freezing temperatures. It was approximately 31 degrees at the time that we went into the woods."

Technology located crash site

Richards recalled, "We did ping (the father's cell) phone with the help of the carrier, and we were getting multiple locations, most likely because it was pinging off different cell-phone towers."

Finally, with help from the cell carrier and the United States Air Force, search crews were able to further narrow down the location when they learned the daughter had an iPad with her.

A PSP drone armed with thermal imagery and night vision searched overhead while troopers and local fire department volunteers hiked through dense trees, thick bushes and steep terrain to find the plane.

Father and daughter found alive

"They were very scared," said Richards. "The pilot was trying to desperately protect his passenger. When I first got there, he had a look of sheer terror as to what was going to happen to them."

Richards said the pair was suffering from shock, hypothermia and medical injuries, and "…as soon as he realized that we were there to help, a complete calm came over his whole body – his face, especially."


Rescuers helped the crash survivors to the nearest road three-eighths of a mile away where ambulances stood by.

"To be honest with you, there is no reason these individuals are alive," remarked Richards.

Richards smiled as he said, "Twenty-eight years, I have not seen this happen where nobody got hurt, and two people that should have been found deceased survived the crash scene, and then survived being taken out without being hurt, moving them out of the area. It was truly inspiring to watch it."

The FAA and NTSB are investigating the cause of the crash.