OWYHEE COUNTY, Idaho (KBOI) - Three people were rescued after their small plane crashed in rough terrain southeast of the Rough Mountain Repeater in Owyhee County, Idaho.
Authorities said the three were flying in a 1966 Cessna 172 that took off from Sacramento, California and was headed for Mountain Home, Idaho. Something went wrong and the plane crashed around midnight.
One of the three passengers used a cell phone to call 9-1-1 and reached the Owyhee County Sheriff's Office.
"I recognized the situation was not going to be good," pilot Brian Brown said in a phone interview. "I even told the girls in the plane that we were probably not going to make it. I didn't mean we were going to die, I just meant that we're not going to make it to our destination."
"I pulled the nose of the plane up, so the belly of the plane, for the most part, slammed into the side of the mountain," he said.
A helicopter crew searched early Sunday but could not find the wreckage because it was too dark.
Hours later, once there was enough light to see the ground, a helicopter crew spotted the wreckage but could not pick up the three passengers because the terrain made it difficult to land.
By early afternoon, four helicopters were involved in trying to rescue the passengers.
An Idaho Army National Guard helicopter was able to hover over the wreckage while a crew used a pulley system to pull each survivor out of the wreckage area.
Each passenger was taken to another location where three Air St. Luke's helicopters were able to land and transport the survivors to Saint Alphonsus Hospital.
Authorities say blizzard-like conditions made it difficult to get all three passengers off the ground in a timely manner. Owyhee County dispatch said harsh winter-like conditions made it extremely difficult for ground crews to access the area where the plane went down.
Authorities have identified the passengers as Brian Brown, Jan Brown and their daughter Heather. A St. Alphonsus spokesperson said the family has left the hospital.
Brian Brown said he suffered a broken nose and a fractured rib when he hit the plane's windshield during the crash.
He said Jan Brown also hit the windshield and suffered similar injuries, and that Heather had some bumps and bruises.
"We'd survived the worst part, actually, at that point," Brown said.
Brian says after the crash, he tried to use a handheld radio and lit signal fires with fuel from the airplane because he could hear helicopters overhead.
"We're going to survive this," Brian said he told his family.
He said at one point, his daughter's cell phone rang. By the time she got to the phone though, it had gone to voicemail.
"But then my youngest daughter says 'Hey, I'm going to try and call 911'," Brown said. "And remarkably, by divine intervention I guess, the phone worked."
911 tapes released Tuesday show a calm family reaching dispatchers to ask for a search party west of Mountain Home.
By Sunday afternoon, a rescue helicopter had located the family, and started to hover directly over their location.
"I knew we were found," Brian said. "It was a tremendous relief."
Brown said he believes it was divine intervention that caused them to even survive the crash, let alone be rescued.
"We had a lot of help," he added.
Photos courtesy of the Owyhee County Sheriff's Office, Nampa Fire Department, and Idaho National Guard.