Editor's note: CNN All-Platform Journalist Patrick Oppmann visited the site of the Alaska plane crash that killed five people earlier this week, including former Sen. Ted Stevens. Here is his account of what he saw.
High over the Muklung Hills, I spot the broken plane below me.
It was the float plane that had crashed into the side of the hills injuring four people and killing five others, including former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
I arrived in Dillingham, Alaska, the day that a dicey rescue mission pulled the crash victims off the mountain. That same day I tracked down Eric Shade, one of the pilots who helped find the plane after it went missing.
It had been a long day for Shade but he agreed to get out of bed to do an interview with me. Wearing a leather bomber jacket over a T-shirt with a Superman insignia on it, Shade told me when he first saw the crash site he didn't think anyone could have survived.
Two days later, with Shade again behind the controls of his plane, he flew me over the crash site, and I saw what he meant. The plane had crashed about 1,000 feet up a mountain that rises some 2,300 feet. Leading up to the bright red, broken plane was a long, muddy gash in what was an otherwise green hillside.
The gash marked where the plane had traveled up the slope, knocking down trees and tearing up rock after crashing into the mountainside. How did anyone survive that?
"It's like a tornado - one person lives and the person next to them dies and you don't know why," said Tom Tucker, a local helicopter pilot who aided in the rescue efforts.
Tucker ferried EMTs and a doctor to the crash site and walked down to the shattered plane from the ledge he put his chopper down on. It was a 45-minute round-trip nightmare hike in the dark and mud, Tucker told me.
"You would take one step forward and three steps back," he said.
In his hanger, while he works on a plane, Tucker is cool to the notion that he did anything heroic. When I ask how he managed to make three trips and each time set his helicopter down safely in the middle of the night on a remote hillside, he responds, "I turned on the lights."
Tucker says the heroes are the doctor and EMTs who spent the night tending to injured survivors of the crash. I go to speak to those EMTs, who are part of Dillingham's Volunteer Fire Department, at their weekly meeting. As I walk into the firehouse, a dozen burly men sit around in folding chairs. A CPR dummy lies on a gurney in the corner.
Many of the men work other jobs and some had just come home for dinner when their phones rang to let them know they were needed for a dangerous rescue mission.
They thank me for coming and with tired faces say they still need to deal with what they saw at the crash site before they can tell their stories.
As Shade flies me over the site, I think about how difficult it would have been for those firefighters to reach this horrible scene and how difficult it was for pilots like Shade to find it.
The day of the crash a heavy mist covered the hills, which almost kept rescuers from spotting the wrecked plane. Deep in the Alaskan bush, it is not the place you want to be hurt and alone. As we double back to get another look , a rainstorm blows in and suddenly the plane is gone.