A former Irish Olympic athlete had made a miraculous escape when a small plane piloted by her husband crashed into a mountain in the US.

Karen Shinkins who was on the Irish 400 meters and 4 x 400 relay team at the Sydney Olympics said she and husband Paul Doyle, who live in Atlanta, are the "luckiest couple alive".

The couple was flying back to Atlanta after a business meeting in their tiny Cessna 172. Paul is a sports agent who represents many of Jamaica’s top athletes.

Their plane flew into a huge thunderstorm over Virginia.

"We were getting shook and pushed around and my husband was working hard to keep our levels even and maintain elevation," she told the Irish Independent.

She said her heart was beating "at 190 miles a second".

"If we had a parachute and ejector seat, then you better believe I was outta there," she said. "Inside I'm screaming at the top of my voice, but outside, I never made a sound. Not a peep."

They went down in an open field.

"When I tell you we hit hard, I'm not kidding," she said.

"We hit, we bounced. We hit and slid. We struck a small hill which launched us over a fence and straight into another hill where we eventually came to a stop. . . I can smell fuel and am convinced the plane might explode and I want out, fast.

"I can't believe both of us are standing there, wherever it is we are, alive. Something or someone was truly looking out for us that day, no doubt."