Pennsylvania priest survives Alaskan wilderness plane crash

By Eileen Violini
Posted Jun 26, 2013

[St. David’s Episcopal Church] Planning on a brief time of prayer and renewal during a sabbatical, the Rev. W. Frank Allen left his day-to-day activities as rector of St. David’s (Radnor) Episcopal Church at the end of May for a family vacation. But his plans took an unexpected turn during a sightseeing tour on June 4, when the small plane he and his family were on crashed in steep terrain near Petersburg, Alaska.

In a letter to his parishioners, Allen, 54, described the events of the crash while thanking the parish for their continued prayers and support.

“It means so much to be part of a community like (St. David’s) where people actually love one another and act on it. It is
humbling and uplifting to be on the receiving end of such an outpouring,” he said.

The Allens were taking a family vacation on a National Geographic Alaskan cruise and opted to take an excursion in a pontoon plane to see LeConte Glacier. Ten minutes into the flight, according to Allen, the plane took a turn and stalled. “The pilot tried to get the speed back up, turned left, and that is when we crashed into the mountain,” Allen remembered. “There was no time to react or to be afraid.”

Another passenger, Thomas Rising, 66, of New Mexico was killed instantly, according to Allen. Allen’s wife Amy and youngest son Ben, were severely injured; Amy with a broken ankle and internal injuries and Ben with a fractured vertebrae. Their middle son
Rob, had a broken arm and oldest son Will a laceration to the forehead. Allen and the pilot suffered minor injuries and set to looking after the injured and signaling the rescue planes in the immediate aftermath of the crash. “We started a fire and tried to keep it going, but starting a fire with the general dampness and rain in Alaska is like throwing logs into a pool and trying to light them,” Allen said.

After three hours, the United States Coast Guard arrived on the scene and began to assess the injuries and facilitate a rescue. The family was first taken to the Petersburg Medical Center, and soon after, Amy and Ben were flown to Harborview Medical Center in
Seattle, which is a regional trauma center for four states, including Alaska. Amy received treatment for her broken ankle and other injuries. Ben was operated on for his cracked vertebrae, and was walking the day after his surgery, Allen said.

Immediately after their rescue, Allen and his other sons, returned to the boat briefly to talk to Rising’s widow and to the other passengers, who were all a part of a university alumni cruise, before joining Amy and Ben in Seattle. While there, they stayed with
family friends and the family returned home a week after the accident, where they are recovering from their injuries.

“It was an amazing and terrible event in our lives, but I believe that God saved us. I believe God saved us, not because we deserved it in any way, but because God was showing His great love and has a purpose for our lives going forward,” Allen wrote to the
St. David’s family. “I believe and I hope that your faith and trust in God will grow as a result, even though difficulties will continue to come for all of us. I hope you will trust more in God’s grace and that we can all be a little more fearless about our lives today and
every day.”

Allen, will remain on sabbatical until the end of the summer. During that time he urges the parish to continue its mission to know God in Jesus Christ and make Christ know to others. “I hope that you will deepen your prayer life, find a way to help someone in need, support the mission of St. David’s Church, and that you will become more and more the person God is calling you to be,” Allen told the members

Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Provisional Clifton Daniel, III, said: “My prayers as bishop and the prayers and concern of all members of the Diocese of Pennsylvania are with Frank and his family in this difficult moment. We thank God that they have been restored safely to their parish and diocese and pray that their recovery will be rapid and complete.”

St. David’s Episcopal Church is the largest Episcopal congregation in the Diocese of Pennsylvania with more than 3,200 parishioners, and the 19th largest in the United States.

— Eileen Violini is director of communications for St. David’s Episcopal Church.