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'Surge of willpower' saved plane crash teen as she trekked through woods

When the small plane Autumn Veatch was on crashed last weekend in the Cascade Mountains, she said she thought she had fallen asleep and slipped into a nightmare.

"Everything was white, like everything -- all the windows -- everything was white," Veatch, 16, told NBC News. "Then suddenly it was just all trees. And then it was fire."

Her first instinct was to pull her step-grandparents from the wreckage. "They were alive," she told CNN, "and they were both screaming.

"There was no way I could get to Grandma because she was on the far side. But I assumed if I got Grandpa out first then maybe she would come out. But I was trying to pull him out and I just couldn't do it."

So, she said, she was forced to watch them die. "That's something that's going to haunt me forever," she told ABC News.

Veatch, a high school student from Bellingham, Washington, was traveling last Saturday with her step-grandparents, Leland and Sharon Bowman, on a Beech A-35 from Kalispell, Montana, to Lynden, Washington. About 30 minutes before their scheduled arrival, they hit bad weather and fell from radar.

For two days, Veatch was lost somewhere near the North Cascades National Park in northern Washington, sliding over rocks and slipping down a waterfall before eventually emerging from the dense woods and hitchhiking her way to a small-town general store.

"She's a miracle child," family friend Chelsey Clark told the Bellingham Herald this week.

Veatch said she stayed near the crash site for a while. Then she said she knew she had to start moving. She starting searching for water -- a skill learned watching survivor shows on TV with her father.

The second night she slept in a sand bank. She woke up covered in bug bites and chilled to the bone. "I just got this surge of willpower and was like there's no way I can die without hugging somebody again," she told NBC News.

Veatch took the trail to a road near the east entrance to North Cascades National Park, family friend Santina Lampman told the Seattle Times. Monday afternoon, a driver saw her sitting at the trail head, picked her up and took her to a store in Mazama, near the Canadian border.

From there, a store employee helped her call 911.

Veatch was released from the hospital Tuesday.

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