“We’ve already had our Christmas miracle,” David Higgins, a firefighter at a plant in Pasadena, said Saturday by phone from his wife’s hospital room in Pueblo.
The couple and their 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, were headed to a New Mexico ski vacation about 11:30 a.m. Monday when their 2003 GMC Yukon got stuck on U.S. Highway 412 near Clayton, just west of the Texas border.
It would be 1:30 a.m. Wednesday before rescuers finally found them.
“We were pretty much out of oxygen and it had started to get cold in there,” Higgins said of the bleak conditions inside the SUV buried under four feet of snow.
Full recovery expected
Initially the entire family was treated at a hospital in Raton, N.M. Hannah was given a clean bill of health, while both her parents were treated for pneumonia, her father said.
David Higgins was discharged Thursday, and his wife was transferred to Pueblo to finish recuperating. She’s expected to make a full recovery, he said.
The family continues to feel deep gratitude to everyone who looked for them, and to the volunteer search-and-rescue team from Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron that eventually located them, Higgins said.
“We say, ‘God bless you and thank you to the New Mexico state troopers, the police department and the New Mexico National Guard,'” he said. “We were completely entombed in ice.”
It was a bit of a miracle to be able to have cell phone conversations with emergency responders and family members, David Higgins said.
“We found out later that out where we were doesn’t really get cell phone service,” he said.
Due to the cloud cover, however, the couple got intermittent signals on their cell phones and were able to give enough clues about their location that responders found the general area.
“Then search-and-rescue showed up with probes,” Higgins said. “They started looking at this long snow bank and said, ‘Let’s try there.’ They started probing the ground and after just a few times, they hit the car.”
After digging a “rabbit hole” at a 45-degree angle to the SUV, the rescuers pulled the three occupants to the top of the snow bank and then slid them one at a time about 15 feet below to other responders, Higgins said.
“Everybody has been great,” Higgins said of the rescuers as well as hospital and hotel employees who have welcomed his family.
His parents, Jim and Betty Higgins of Kerrville, traveled to Pueblo to spend the holiday with them.
On Thursday, David Higgins and his father made the trip to retrieve the stranded Yukon, which had slid about 30 feet off the road, he said.
Once again, he said, the New Mexico Army Reserve was there to help them move the car onto the roadway and jump the battery to get it started.
David Higgins said he drove the Yukon about 80 miles to Raton with no driver-side window, since rescuers had to break it to get the family out, and “a ton of ice and snow” on top of the vehicle.
Those are minor issues, he said, compared with the reality of what nearly happened to them, and they’re happy to be having Christmas together in Pueblo.
“We’ve already explained to Hannah that Santa understands the situation,” he said. “When we get home, we’ll have our big Christmas.”