(CNN) — The knock was faint. But, after being alerted by his two dachshunds, Larry Wilkins went to his door and saw a young girl — her lips quivering, her nose bloodied, her arms and legs scratched up.
And, somehow, still alive.
“She told me that her mom and dad were dead,” Wilkins said. “And that she had been in a plane crash.”
The girl’s sister and cousin also died when their Piper PA-34 aircraft went down Friday evening in western Kentucky. Even with the plane upside down, the 7-year-old made it out, trekked three-quarters of a mile in the dark through what Wilkins described as “very, very rough territory” — mired with fallen trees, creeks, ditches and blackberry briars.
When Wilkins saw her, the girl was barefoot except for one sock and was dressed for Florida — shorts, no coat — not for trampling through the January cold of Kentucky. He got her on his couch and called 911, alerting authorities that a plane had gone down and there was at least one survivor.
Kentucky State Police troopers arrived in about 10 minutes. Sgt. Dean Patterson said the girl was taken to a local hospital with “non-life-threatening injuries.”
“She’s a terribly brave little girl, I’ll tell you that,” Wilkins said. “…I can’t imagine a 7-year-old doing that.”
FAA: Pilot reported engine problems
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen explained that air traffic controllers “lost contact with a Piper PA-34 aircraft … shortly after the pilot reported engine problems, and told air traffic controllers that he was diverting to the Kentucky Dam State Airport.”
The twin-engine aircraft didn’t make it, crashing in Lyon County, about 30 miles east of Paducah, and less than 10 miles from the airport.
Early Saturday, the Kentucky State Police identified the dead as Marty Gutzler, 49, Kimberly Gutzler, 45, and 9-year-old Piper Gutzler — a husband, wife and their daughter. Also killed was 14-year-old Sierra Wilder, the survivor’s cousin. All were from Nashville, Illinois.
The name of the surviving girl was withheld at the request of the family.
The Kentucky State Police say the plane was en route to Mount Vernon, Illinois, from Key West, Florida.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating and are expected to arrive at the scene on Saturday.
“I just feel so sorry for that little girl, I can’t understand it,” Wilkins said. “I just can’t imagine (going through) that, for someone that young.”