Doctor: Family members burned in Alaska plane crash are stable, face long recovery

By Abby Haight, AP
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Doctor: Alaska crash victims critical but stable

PORTLAND, Ore. — Three family members injured in a fiery plane crash in Alaska were in critical but stable condition Thursday and face long, painful recoveries, a doctor said.

Preston Cavner, his wife Stacie and their 2-year-old son Hudson were sedated on respirators at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland after sustaining severe burns and other injuries.

Four-year-old Myles Cavner died in the Tuesday crash in Anchorage.

Another crash victim, 16-year-old Rachel Zientek, was in serious condition at the burn intensive care unit of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The Cavners run a guide service and lodge at Port Alsworth, Alaska. Zientek, of Houston, is a family friend and had just arrived in Alaska to help take care of the couple’s young sons for the summer, according to Anchorage police Lt. Dave Parker.

“This was to have been an Alaskan adventure for her,” he said.

The cause of the crash has not yet been determined.

Stacie Cavner, 32, has deep burns over half of her body, primarily her arms and legs, said Dr. Nick Eshraghi, a surgeon with the Oregon Burn Center who is treating the parents.

She will likely remain in the hospital for two to three months then undergo inpatient rehabilitation, Eshraghi said.

Hudson had burns on his scalp, hand and foot. Preston Cavner, 34, had burns on his lower leg, non-threatening spinal fractures and major facial fractures. Both were expected to be hospitalized at least a month, said Eshraghi, who spoke with permission from relatives of the Cavners.

“Skin is the largest organ of the body,” he said. “When you have a large portion of an organ injured like this, it takes a lot from the patient to recover.

“Fortunately, this is a young, healthy family and that makes it easier for them to withstand problems.”

Zientek and the family were in a Cessna 206 being flown by Preston Cavner when it crashed soon after takeoff en route to Port Alsworth. It burst into flames in a business district busy with rush-hour traffic. Passers-by lifted the wings of the single-engine plane and pulled out the victims.

“There is no question that if they had not lifted that aircraft, those inside all would have perished,” Parker said.

Zientek arrived in Anchorage three days before the crash and had planned to stay for two months.

Parker said Zientek’s father was taking time off as a Houston police officer to be with the injured teen in Seattle.

“He was very grateful that his daughter was pulled from the wreckage,” Parker said. “He’s just amazed that people were willing to risk their lives that way to save her.”

Relatives of the Cavners also thanked rescuers and medical personnel.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the crash. Jim La Belle, chief of the agency’s Alaska regional division, said it appeared the Cavners’ mission in Anchorage went beyond picking up Zientek.

Along with clothing, there were building materials on board the plane at the time it went down.

“There was a considerable amount of cargo on board,” he said.

Asked if the plane might have been overloaded, La Belle said he could not address that but added that crash investigators routinely look at weight and balance of load as possible factors.


D’Oro reported from Anchorage.

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