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Becker’s Son Survives Montana Plane Crash

By Greta Petry (October 8, 2004)

Matthew Ramige

Matthew Ramige

As an assistant professor in UAlbany’s School of Business, Wendy S. Becker has been in the national news before, talking on National Public Radio about the need for trained forensic scientists to handle a backlog of DNA criminal cases. When her son’s plane went down in the mountainous terrain of Montana last month, however, Becker was in the news for a much more personal story.

After teaching her morning MBA class on Tuesday, Sept. 21, Becker got the worst phone call imaginable for a parent. Her son, Matthew Ramige, 29, had been on a plane that was lost in a storm in Montana the day before. The plane, with five people on board, was on a mission for the Forest Service and was headed for Big Bear-Bob Marshall Wilderness near Glacier National Park. After rushing to Kalispell, Mont., Becker was told the plane had crashed and there were no survivors. As her family gathered around her for support, she found out on Wednesday that he was very much alive. Despite a broken back and severe burns, Matt had hiked out of the woods to the highway with a surviving co-worker, Jodee Hogg. Becker told “Good Morning America” that she hadn’t slept in three days while all this was going on. The inspirational story has attracted nationwide media attention.

Ramige and Hogg, 23, emerged from the wilderness after their deaths had been announced by the Flathead County, Mont., sheriff and the Forest Service.

According to news reports, the pilot of the aircraft, Jim Long, 60, was caught in bad weather shortly after takeoff. One veteran pilot said that when clouds roll in across the peaks of the Rockies, there is no choice but to go up. The plane hit a rock on Mount Liebig shortly after takeoff, broke into pieces, and caught fire.

Hogg is credited with pulling Ramige out of the aircraft, while Long pushed Ken Good, 58, from the plane. Long and Davita Bryant, 32, never made it out of the plane.

Hogg, Ramige, and Good huddled that night to survive the 20-degree temperatures, and had neither food nor matches to build a fire. After Good died the next morning, Hogg and Ramige decided to begin their painful trek to the highway. They could hear helicopters above but could not attract their attention in the bad weather. They spent a second night in the mountains without food or shelter, drinking water from the forest streams.

Ramige was life flighted in serious condition to Harborview Hospital in Seattle, where he is being treated for a broken spine and severe burns. Hogg was treated for burns and bruises at a hospital in Kalispell. Ramige will receive skin grafts to his chest, thighs, and hands, but is expected to make a full recovery. Becker told Update that her son has worked for the Forest Service since he received his degree in forestry from the University of Montana in 1999. He is an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, camping, and golf. Even in high school, he planned weekend camping trips with his friends and hiked the Appalachian Trail. His summer job while in college involved leading student wilderness expeditions to the Rocky Mountains for weeks at a time.

While relieved that her son survived, Becker said her joy is muted as her family grieves for the three who were lost in the crash.

Becker is an industrial-organizational psychologist who teaches Human Resource Management and Motivation, Productivity, and Change Management in UAlbany’s School of Business.