GREAT FALLS, Montana — An 11-year-old Great Falls girl has reunited with her classmates for the first time since she was injured in a September plane crash that killed her grandmother.
Rachel Lukasik chatted and laughed with students during a visit to Sacajawea Elementary School Tuesday, the Great Falls Tribune reports (http://tinyurl.com/mmok4oz).
"They circled around her, and she got a good visit from quite a few of them," said her father, Rod Lukasik.
Rachel suffered serious burns over 40 percent of her body in the Sept. 2 crash of a small plane southeast of Great Falls. Her grandmother, 67-year-old Susan Majerus of Great Falls, was killed.
Her grandfather, Robert Majerus, 68, and pilot Christopher Wilsey, 55, were injured. The cause is still under investigation.
Rachel spent nearly three months at the University of Utah Hospital Burn Center in Salt Lake City. She still isn't ready to return to school full-time. She is in physical therapy and faces skin graft replacements as she grows up.
"We're trying to get our wheels underneath us," her father said.
Wilsey reported having problems directing the Cessna 177B shortly after taking off from Great Falls. He told investigators the plane wouldn't climb as they approached a ridge, so he tried steering toward a valley but hit trees.
The plane crashed and caught fire.
Bob Majerus kicked out the cockpit windshield, and Susan Majerus pushed Rachel through the opening to safety, said Susan's son, Rod Lukasik.
"My mother unbuckled Rachel from the seat and was handing her through the windshield while the plane was totally engulfed," he said.
Students and teachers at Sacajawea Elementary organized a "Races for Rachel" fundraiser to help the family with medical costs.
"Her whole school sent her get well cards," Rod Lukasik said. "There was a giant ladybug that they all signed too."
"Ladybug" is the nickname Rachel's grandfather gave her when she was a baby.
Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com