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Survivor of St. Mary's plane crash found dead after ATV crash

Marshall resident Melanie Coffee was found dead Wednesday morning just outside of the Western Alaska village. Alaska State Troopers say she crashed her ATV into a tree.

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said the agency believes Coffee was traveling at a high rate of speed. Troopers were told by others that she was "heavily drinking and intoxicated," although there were no reported witnesses to the crash.

Although Coffee's body wasn't found until Wednesday morning, troopers believe the crash occurred during the night.

Peters said toxicology reports are being conducted, standard procedure in any motor vehicle mortality.

Coffee's death comes just 10 months after a fatal plane crash near the community of St. Mary's. Coffee, 26, was one of six survivors of the crash of the Cessna 208 on Nov. 29, 2013.

Among the four people who perished in the crash was her 5-month-old son, Wyatt.

Coffee was the first plane crash victim with whom troopers came in contact after the plane went down, Peters said. At the time, Coffee was "disoriented" and unsure of where she was.

"But I mean, she had just been in a plane crash, for goodness' sake," Peters said in a phone interview.

On Thursday morning, Coffee received a special recognition award from the Association of Village Council Presidents for her role in the crash aftermath. She walked through brush and snow to the road despite being injured and was the first person to reach responders, the citation said.

Staff at the regional Alaska Native nonprofit association wanted to acknowledge her role, AVCP president Myron Naneng told the big crowd in Bethel. He thanked the villages of St. Mary's, Mountain Village and Pitkas Point.

Then his voice broke as he told the audience that Coffee had died the day before. He didn't say what happened.

People gasped. Naneng called for a moment of silence.

"She is the one that saved other people on that plane despite the fact of the loss of her child," Naneng said. "We were hoping that she would be here today. We know that she's with us here in spirit."

Still, troopers say she didn't lead rescuers to the plane. An Era pilot saw the plane flying low and on the wrong flight path before it disappeared into the fog, Peters said.

"The Era pilots were the ones that were able to figure out where the downed plane was located," she said.

Naneng said the award would be made posthumously. Nick Andrew of Marshall accepted it and said he would give it to her mother.

"I just ask God for his guidance, wisdom and comfort for her family and the rest of us," Andrew said.

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