Cody Lee was raised on the small island of Unalaska, Alaska. Part of the Aleutian Islands, Unalaska is home to around 4,500 people and one small airport.
This particular airport is notorious for stormy weather and only 3,900 feet of usable runway space. To add to your nerves, the runaway is also surrounded by cliffs with icy water below. Lee has flown into this airport countless times but this time was different. Something went wrong. The plane skidded off the runway during landing resulting in propeller blades being sent back into the cabin. There were 42 passengers on board with 10 injured and one fatality.
Lee was traveling back to Unalaska from Anchorage after a family trip to Idaho. She was with her parents and 13-month-old daughter Frankie Quinn when the plane she was on had trouble landing and experienced bad turbulence. Flight PenAir 3296 went into land but couldn't. Lee recalled how bad the turbulence was, “I was gripping my baby,” she said. “I was actually afraid of the turbulence.”
After a failed landing attempt, the pilot circled around to try again. Lee believed the pilot would maybe approach the runaway from the opposite direction. However, he went in the same way. Lee said she felt the plane moving faster than normal when she heard her mother who was seated a few rows away from her yell, " Cover the baby!" Lee instinctively covered her baby with her body as a shield when the impact happened.
"It was a big, huge bang," she remembered. The overhead compartment opened and luggage flew out onto passengers. Propeller blades sliced through the plane in two different places. The plane landed on the edge of the runway and was hanging off near the water. It was a chaotic scene but according to Lee both crew and passengers leaped into action. A young man near Lee began yelling "to get the baby out!" and Lee says she was off the plane in what felt like seconds.
Lee recalled the whole horrifying experience in an interview for local Anchorage Daily News. A 38-year-old man from Washington seating directly in front of Lee died from traumatic injuries in the accident.
Lee has had some neck and back pain but it is ok. Little Frankie is also ok but suffered a cut on her forehead and forearm. Lee credits her mom's quick warning with how well her baby got through the trauma.
Unalaska is one of the most populous islands of the Aleutian Islands located in the Bering Sea. It is an island so living there involves regular air travel but Lee is hesitant. She doesn't want to land there again, especially with her daugher. And we can't blame her.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be investigating the crash.