An 11-year-old girl from Gaylord, Michigan, survived a plane crash that killed four people—all thanks to her father’s life-saving bear hug.
On November 13, 2021, Laney Perdue got ready to leave for Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan to see a family friend with her dad, Mike, 43.
The girl was “so excited” about the trip because the island was her favorite place in the world. Her father, who planned to hunt with family and friends when they got there, felt equally excited for their mini-vacation.
The father-and-daughter said goodbye to the rest of their family before boarding the 20-minute flight.
“He gave me this huge hug, let go for a minute and then squeezed me super tight again,” Christie, Laney’s mom, told People of the last time she saw her husband. “Mike is known for his bear hugs.”
Aboard the commuter plane, Laney remembers looking out “one of those little windows and seeing the grass and feeling my dad’s arm around me.”
However, things took a turn for the worse when the aircraft was about to land.
“I felt this feeling in my stomach like the plane just dropped, and my dad had his feet out like he was bracing for something,” the fifth-grader recalled.
Their plane crashed on the island at 1:47 p.m., killing Mike, pilot William Julian, 55, and married passengers Adam Kendall, 37, and Kate Leese, 35.
Miraculously, Laney only sustained 11 broken bones—most of which are going to heal on their own—and injuries to her lip and mouth.
“The last thing I remember is my dad giving me the tightest hug ever,” she said. “I’m alive because of him.”
The first responders who recovered her from the wreckage said the same, crediting Mike’s last act of love for Laney’s survival. His bear hug shielded her from the impact of the crash and kept her alive.
When Christie learned of the accident and rushed to see her husband and daughter, she didn’t know if Laney had survived the emergency helicopter ride from the island. But after reaching the hospital, she was relieved to see her alive and breathing.
“I grabbed her hand and she squeezed mine,” Christie recalled, quickly realizing that her daughter was unaware that her father didn’t make it.
Laney and Mike, a realtor, were both alive when responders arrived. However, the latter eventually succumbed to his injuries shortly after getting to the hospital.
“I was like, ‘Hey, Mom, where’s Dad?'” Laney said. “I was freaking out because I didn’t know there had been a crash. It was scary.”
Christie told her the devastating truth after she was transferred that evening to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.
“I wanted to make sure he was okay, I kind of knew he had passed, but I wasn’t sure,” Laney recalled. “I just broke down crying.”
Despite her grief and injuries, Laney strived to recover so she could honor her father by walking at his funeral. After undergoing surgeries on her jaw and foot, she went from being in a wheelchair to using crutches. And on December 11, she walked with them behind her dad’s casket.
Their community also offered support by creating a GoFundMe page to help the family with their mounting expenses.
Christie, Laney, her siblings, Addie, 8, and twin brothers Henrik and Bo, 2, will always remember Mike as “the best girl dad.” He loved celebrating “the little moments in life” with his family, and that’s something they would cherish forever.
“Every day he would wake up and be like, ‘You guys are beautiful. You guys are special,'” Laney said. “He was amazing.”
Now, the family of five makes sure to remember and honor Mike every day by writing down their memories of him in a book kept on the kitchen counter.
They are also thinking of when they will return to Beaver Island.
“Years ago, he said, ‘Promise me if something ever happens to me, you keep coming to the island with the kids,'” said Christie. “It’s the greatest tragedy and the greatest joy. We lost Mike, but we kept Laney.”
Christie’s mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law have since moved in to help them.
“I’m so sad, but I know Dad would want us to be okay. He would want us to live,” Laney said.
What Mike did for his daughter is the perfect example of a father’s love. He is a real hero.
Listen to Laney and Christie as they talk about the details of the tragic plane crash.
You may help the Perdue family by donating to their GoFundMe.