Twenty five years ago Donnie Priest, his mother and step father’s plane crashed into White Mountain just north of Tioga Pass in one of the deadliest winter storms to hit California. Now Priest, who lost both his legs due to frostbite, has returned to White Mountain to visit the place where he nearly lost his life.
SFGate: “Donnie Priest pulls off his left leg and tinkers with his prosthetic ankle as casually as another hiker might tighten his bootlaces.
He can see the crash site now, but it’s still a thousand vertical feet above him and the route up the mountain is about to get dicey. As Priest uses an Allen wrench to adjust the angle of his carbon-fiber foot for the steepening terrain, he’s beginning to have doubts.
‘That mountain already tried to take me once,’ he says, squinting up at 12,057-foot White Mountain. ‘Why give it the opportunity to do it twice?’
On Jan. 3, 1982, a small plane carrying Priest, his mother and stepfather crashed into the peak during the deadliest winter storm to pound Northern California in a generation. Priest, then 10, was the only survivor. The drama of his rescue after five days in the wreckage captivated a battered Bay Area desperate for good news and turned the boy into a minor celebrity for a time – even as surgeons amputated both his frostbitten lower legs.
He and his rescuers eventually moved on to new chapters in their lives. But sometime last year, for reasons guys generally aren’t good at articulating, Priest, now 35, began to feel something drawing him back to White Mountain for the first time since the crash.
“There was always an empty void in me,” he said, “a hundred unanswered questions.””