38 years after plane crashes on mountaintop, woman meets heroes behind true 'Christmas miracle'
Author: Gary Shapiro
Published: 1:47 PM MST December 24, 2017
Updated: 9:57 AM MST December 25, 2017
FEATURES 4 Articles

On Christmas, we often talk about miracles.

Some people may not believe in them, but Connie Krieger of Denver does.

She says she's alive because of a Christmas miracle that happened many years ago.

EXPLORE

38 years after plane crashes on mountaintop, woman meets heroes behind true 'Christmas miracle'

FEATURES
Chapter 1

Stranded

A family caught in the mountains during a treacherous storm needs a Christmas miracle

Connie Krieger talks about the plane crash and rescue that changed her life forever.
Connie Krieger talks about the plane crash and rescue that changed her life forever.

It was 1979, two days before Christmas and two weeks after Connie's mom died after a long illness.

She was only 15.

Her dad wanted to get away, and do something fun to take the family's mind off what happened.

Her father was a pilot.

So Connie, her two sisters, her grandmother and father took off in a plane to see her family in California.

Unfortunately, they never got there.

The weather changed suddenly.

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Connie Krieger's family's plane crashed in Rocky Mountain National Park two days before Christmas in 1979. Her dad, Connie and her sisters survived, but her grandmother didn't.

A storm rolled in and clouds, wind and snow covered the mountain peaks.Her dad turned the plane around, but a downdraft caught it and forced them to crash on a mountaintop in Rocky Mountain National Park.Her dad survived, but broke his back.Connie and her sisters were OK.Her grandmother was killed.They were in a lot of trouble.For two days, they lived in the wreckage through 100 mile and hour winds and temperatures of 40 below.Some of the windows had shattered, so it was extremely cold inside the plane.They couldn't start a fire because they weren't able to shut off one of the fuel tanks.It was dire.

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Connie Krieger's family's plane crashed in Rocky Mountain National Park two days before Christmas in 1978. Her dad, Connie and her sisters survived, but her grandmother didn't.

Connie remembers thinking “tomorrow [it's] Christmas, and we need a miracle”.When she woke up Christmas morning, the clouds parted to reveal a blue sky, and the wind died down a little.That's when she heard a plane overhead.She got out on the wing, and waved bright-colored clothes.The pilot flying overhead tipped his wings.He saw her.She knew they would be saved.

Chapter 2

The rescue

When a plane crashes in the mountains, there usually aren't survivors

Members of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Team and Civil Air Patrol were alerted to an emergency locator transmitter signal.It was a couple of days before Christmas.They started planning a search and rescue operation, but the weather was not cooperating.

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Connie Krieger's family's plane crashed in Rocky Mountain National Park two days before Christmas in 1978. Her dad, Connie and her sisters survived, but her grandmother didn't.

They assumed there was a plane down in the park, but just couldn't get there to search.On Christmas Eve they tried from the ground and the air.But the clouds were too thick and the wind was too strong. They just couldn't get to where they thought the signal was coming from … until Christmas morning. The weather cleared enough for CAP Pilot Sonny Elgin to fly toward the ELT.On a second pass over the mountaintop, he spotted the wreckage, and the young girl waving at him.He radioed the unbelievable news: “there is at least one survivor.”

Chapter 3

The aftermath

When rescuers arrived, they heard something they never expected

The first helicopter on the scene was Sky9.Pilot Jug Hill and 9NEWS Photographer Chuck Richardson took a Civil Air Patrol volunteer who had medical training with them.

Rescue crews help Connie Krieger's family escape a plane crash in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rescue crews help Connie Krieger's family escape a plane crash in Rocky Mountain National Park.

His name was Steve Osborne.They had to land downhill from the wreckage because of wind and snow conditions.As Hill hovered a few feet above the ground, Richardson and Osborne jumped into the snow and started climbing toward the plane.When they got there, not knowing how many people survived, they heard something unusual: People singing Christmas carols from inside the wreckage.Osborne was the first to reach the survivors.Connie Krieger, to this day, calls him her angel.

Chapter 4

The reunion

It happened 38 years ago, but it feels like yesterday

In a garage at Rocky Mountain Rescue, there was a recently a gathering that Connie Krieger asked us to arrange.

Connie Krieger met the rescuers who saved her life 38 years ago.
Connie Krieger met the rescuers who saved her life 38 years ago.

Many of the people involved in the rescue of her family were there, including volunteers from Rocky Mountain Rescue and the Civil Air Patrol, ground coordinators, pilots, communications experts, medical technicians and others.Many of them are retired now.But they all remember that rescue 38 years ago like it was yesterday.It was Christmas.The weather cleared just enough to let them do their job.There were survivors, and that doesn't happen very often when a plane crashes in the mountains.It was a very memorable.

Rescue crews met the people they saved 38 years ago after a plane crashed in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rescue crews met the people they saved 38 years ago after a plane crashed in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Connie said she wanted to meet the people who saved her family so she could thank them.And she did.It brought out many emotions.Through tears, smiles and hugs, they talked about how everything came together to make the rescue successful.The rescuers are proud of that.Connie and her sisters are extremely thankful.They all agreed, it was a miracle.A Christmas Miracle.

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