ROCK SPRINGS, Wyoming — A Utah pilot, his wife, their 2-week-old infant and twin toddlers were rescued after making an emergency landing in a plane near Rock Springs, Wyoming, on Monday, officials said.
The man was flying his family back to their home in Heber from Wayne, Nebraska, when he encountered strong headwinds and realized he would not have enough fuel to make it to the next airport, the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office said in a news release.
The plane's engine began to sputter about 5:30 p.m. then died while the plane was about 8,500 feet in the air.
"(The pilot) realized he had less than 5 minutes to drop altitude and identify a spot to land," Sweetwater County Corporal Jason Mower said.
The man immediately began emergency landing procedures and was able to land the aircraft in a snowy field about 3 miles southeast of the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, sheriff's officials said.
"He said he landed in a flat area and credited the snow for softening the blow, so to speak," Mower said. "He landed in about 6 to 12 inches of snow, so no one was hurt."
But, though the plane didn't land far from the airport, the area is remote and does not have a direct point of entry or exit, Mower said. If there were one, the snow would make it impassable.
"I know that, the way the crow flies, they're only 3 miles from the airport, but, ... practically speaking, they were in the middle of nowhere, and they had nowhere to go and no way to get out of there," Mower added.
No one was injured in the landing, and the plane was not damaged, but the family was stuck with "no apparent means to escape" the frigid conditions and an estimated wind chill well below zero, officials said.
The pilot was having issues with cell service but was finally able to reach the airport after failing to contact the sheriff's office, Mower said. The airport immediately notified 911 and deputies responded quickly, working to figure out where the family had landed, Mower said.
Authorities soon identified the plane's location but realized it would take several hours to reach the stranded family. They contacted several medical helicopters in the area until one was able to respond.
"We got kind of lucky. ... Intermountain was already en route that way and heard what we were dealing with, wanted to help, dropped off their patient, then responded and helped us locate and transport the family," Mower said.
Emergency crews were able to successfully evacuate all five family members a little over three hours after the plane went down.
"The baby and the small children were wrapped up with mom, but everyone was getting cold," Mower said. "Everyone was fine, they were just grateful."
"Unfortunately, when we're dealing with aircraft, it's usually a crashed aircraft, and people don't usually survive. So this was definitely a unique and rapidly-evolving situation, and I know we're all really thrilled we were able to take a potentially tragic event and see it through to a positive conclusion for a change," he added.
Contributing: Todd Fooks, KSL Newsradio