A motorist survived six harrowing days alone along a remote Arizona riverbed after crashing through a fence and landing in a tree, officials said Wednesday.
The unidentified 53-year-old woman lost control of her car on rain-slicked U.S. Route 60 near milepost 117 on Oct. 12 in Wickenburg, Arizona, about 65 miles north of Phoenix, according to the Arizona Department of Safety.
She was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops and survived on grass and water before she was found nearly a week later, said rescuer and local rancher David “D.J.” Moralez.
“I don’t know if she could have made it there another night,” Moralez, 30, told NBC News. “She was in pretty rough shape when we found her.”
The woman’s car fell about 50 feet down a ravine, “landing in a mesquite tree where it remained suspended above the ground,” the department said. She remained in the tree-top car for several days before finally climbing out to seek help, authorities said.
Then finally on Oct. 18, a state Department of Transportation (ADOT) crew was working along U.S. 60, corralling a cow, when Moralez happened to be driving and spotted his brother Zachary on that crew.
The rancher stopped to chat with his brother and just as they were ending their chance meeting, they spotted a hole in the fence where the car had crashed.
The brothers called 911 and they eventually found human footprints along the Hassayampa river bed that led them to the severely dehydrated woman resting under a tree.
Her eyes were swollen and she could barely move with broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and head injury when the brothers and Department of Safety Trooper Caleb Hiegel got to her, according to Moralez.
“‘Will you please help me,'” the woman asked, according to Moralez. “I said, ‘That’s what we’re here for.’ She said she was screaming for help but no one heard her.”
A helicopter came to the riverbed and airlifted the woman to a hospital.
“The diligence of the ADOT crew and teamwork of everyone involved is exemplary and to be commended,” Arizona Department of Safety Col. Frank Milstead said. “Due to their outstanding efforts, this woman’s life was saved.”
Moralez, a sixth-generation cattle rancher, said his parents always taught him and his brother to be aware of their surroundings, and look out for broken fence line — because cows could get loose.