Three people were rescued after their plane crashed earlier this week. Pilot Josh Smith had his 72-year-old father-in-law and 12-year-old daughter on board with him during the incident.

He’d only been home one day after being rescued, but Smith was already writing his list of thank yous. The list of people who helped rescue him and his family is longer than he can even grasp.

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“Everybody stepped up, and it’s quite a quite a humbling experience to see your whole community turn, and just help and to show that love. It’s there and it’s amazing,” Smith said. “It took them a lot of stress and effort and we are so thankful. We are very grateful for all of your efforts.


The Smiths take a photo with the Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60T Jayhawk crew, who rescued them near a ridgeline landing strip in the vicinity of the Chakachatna River. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

They were efforts he never thought he would need when he left the Lake Hood Airport Sunday afternoon, heading home to Kenai with a sightseeing stop on the way.

Josh Smith stands atop his flipped plane as his daughter sits patiently on the wing, waiting for rescuers. Photo courtesy of the Smith family.

“Made a little side trip to enjoy the beauty of the mountains there,” Smith explained. “Up at the top, top of the ridge there, just got a little beyond what I could do with the airplane and got stuck.”

It was stop on a ridgeline landing strip that he’s landed on before, but not under these conditions. The snow was too deep and while coming to a stop, the plane flipped. They were stranded with no way off the ridge. He said that’s when his survival instincts kicked in.

“We had food and just the bare minimum to stay warm,” Smith recalled. “We were able to get a fire going and get that established, and then put it out so if we needed it again we could get it fired right back up. We stayed inside the airplane to stay warm, just huddled up in our sleeping bags, and took turns rotating around to share heat.”

Smith said his daughter never complained once.

“But she did mention that maybe going on the scenic side trip was not a great idea, which she was right,” he acknowledged.

Back home, Smith’s wife wasn’t sure if her husband, daughter and father were alive.

“I got a report that they moved to the other side of the inlet and it just felt like they were chasing a ghost,” Melissa Smith explained.

“They didn’t have that certainty that we were alive and that’s a heavy load to put on your friends and family,” her husband added.

Pilots and volunteers searched using any leads and signals they could get, including the flare that finally led them to the family.

“I can tell you I’ve never seen a pretty helicopter than that one,” Josh Smith joked.


The Smiths walk away after their Cessna 180 crashed near a ridgeline landing strip in the vicinity of the Chakachatna River in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. U.S. Coast Guard photo.


After 30 hours of waiting, Melissa Smith was hoping for good news.

“My mom called me and she’s just screaming and I can’t understand a single word she’s saying and so I’m kind of like panicking, like, ‘Is this a happy call or are you like terrified?’” she said of the day she got news of her missing family. “I’m finally, ‘Are you happy or sad, mom? Happy or sad?’ She’s like, ‘Happy!’ I’m like, ‘OK.’”

Her family was finally on their way home.

“It was a flight that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Josh Smith said. “And the sight of those Coasties coming up over the hillside is one I’ll never forget.”

He said it was an experience that’s left him with gratitude that will last a lifetime.

“God is good and he has worked through some amazing community in this situation to spare us and show us some mercy,” Josh Smith said.

While they are home rejoicing, Josh and Melissa Smith say with six kids, it was right back to the laundry and making lunches for school.

He did say going forward they are going to invest in an better emergency transmitter that would let searchers know their exact location, and he will also start filing a more exact flight plan. In case they are ever in a survival situation again, he will also probably pack the plane with higher quality sleeping bags and more food before the next trip.

KTVA 11’s Melissa Frey can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter