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"He was the only one of the four of us who could actually walk," Sean O'Keefe told NBC's Dateline.
"I didn't really walk," says Willy. "It was more sliding around on my knees and hands."
Two of the first people in the air, once the search began, were husband and wife Ron Duncan and Dr. Dani Bowman. Based in Anchorage, they were old friends of the Phillipses'. Bowman is a pediatric critical care physician; Duncan is the founder and president of the Alaskan cable company GCI, which owns that lodge on Lake Nerka. He's also a pilot. Flying west over the Muklung Hills, they spotted the wreckage. "There was Willy, outside the aircraft in a white sweatshirt, waving his arms," recalls Bowman. "That's how we knew there were survivors."
Duncan dropped her at a nearby dirt airstrip, where she boarded a helicopter that deposited her—at considerable peril, for conditions had continued to deteriorate—roughly 1,000 feet above the crash site, where she was joined by another rescuer. After a rain-soaked bushwhack over giant boulders and through dense stands of alder in gathering darkness, they reached the plane.
Looking out from the remains of the left rear door was Willy. Behind him, in an attitude that Bowman describes as "almost peaceful," was his deceased father.
Bowman spoke to the boy, whose nose, she noticed, was badly broken, pushed off to one side. He gave her updates on the condition of the survivors. He didn't mention the pain in his own shattered ankle. They had this exchange:
"Willy, you know your dad is dead."
"Yes, I know that."
"Can you still help me?"
"Yes, I can."