Image: Firefighters remove body from ravine.
Chuck Kight  /  AP
Riverside County firefighters on Tuesday prepare to remove the body of  Norma Bustamante from a crash site where her 6-year-old daughter was also found alive and rescued near Banning, Calif.
updated 4/15/2004 4:20:14 PM ET 2004-04-15T20:20:14

A 6-year-old girl who survived 10 days in a crashed car, nourished only by dry noodles and Gatorade, was recovering from dehydration as her family marveled at her resilience and mourned the death of her mother.

Ruby Bustamante was sitting up in bed, smiling, asking for ice cream and watching TV at Riverside Regional Medical Center, Dr. Webster Wong told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

“She has sustained some very minor, non-life-threatening injuries,” he said.

Ruby’s great-grandfather Bill Cooney said she didn’t appear to remember much about the crash that killed her 26-year-old mother, Norma Bustamante.

‘A strong little girl’
“She’s a strong little girl, strong, real strong,” Juan Morin, the girl’s uncle, said as he fought back tears.

Relatives said they last saw Ruby before she left her Indio home with her mother on April 4 to visit her mother’s boyfriend. They reported both missing the next day, but authorities could find no trace of them until state Department of Transportation workers spotted their crashed Ford Taurus at the bottom of a ravine on Tuesday.

The Riverside County coroner’s office said Wednesday that Bustamante likely was killed within minutes of the crash by multiple blunt force trauma. She was ejected from the car and suffered severe liver damage and broken ribs, officials said.

The needle of the car’s speedometer was stuck at 83 mph; tests will determine whether the crash was caused by mechanical failure, California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Blondon said.

Caltrans workers gave Ruby water and a cup of lime Jell-O before she was taken to the hospital.

Kin critical of authorities' response
Relatives criticized authorities for not moving quickly with the search. The CHP had searched the area after a woman reported seeing a car go off the highway on April 4.

One of Ruby’s aunts, Rose Lopez, said the Indio Police Department didn’t seem to take the family’s missing persons report seriously.

“They took the report and kind of dismissed it,” she said, adding that officers told Ruby’s grandmother her daughter “probably had to just get away.”

Indio police Sgt. Richard Banasiak said authorities entered the names of the mother and daughter in a national computer database for missing persons while the family posted fliers throughout the area. He said the search was hampered by the rugged terrain.

“We have so much sympathy for the family, and because of that, naturally, you have this human instinct that maybe we didn’t do enough,” said CHP Capt. Bob Clark.

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