When a Cessna aircraft crashed outside the tiny Alaskan village of St. Marys Friday, villagers jumped into action: One of the survivors used her cellphone to call for help, and 40 to 50 residents started a search, some on foot and some on snowmobiles, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The survivor, Melanie Coffee, eventually walked as far as three-quarters of a mile from the wreck to find the searchers and bring them back to the plane, where a group rescue effort quickly took shape: "People were just rolling in—a constant influx of snowmachines, ATVs, trucks," says a paramedic. "There were so many people. They were doing everything. There were people clearing pathways through trash to make flat spots for us to walk."
Residents from St. Marys and nearby Mountain Village also helped carry people from the plane out to ambulances, as quickly as they could over rough terrain, the paramedic adds. Ultimately six of the 10 passengers survived. "The people on the ground, they're the ones who should get the credit" for that, says another paramedic. "They're the reason there are so many people that survived." As for a village police officer, he credits Coffee for finding the rescue party: "It's unbelievable. She's the hero in this." Sadly, her baby, whom she was giving CPR when she called for help, did not survive. There's still no word on the cause of the crash, which will be investigated by the NTSB and the FAA. "They were just flying over, and next thing they know, they were just falling straight out of the sky," the officer says. "The plane just dropped." (Read more plane crash stories.)