Rescue workers and good Samaritans who found a Colorado mom after she had been trapped in her totaled car for at least six days said Tuesday that her survival was miraculous.
"I never expected to find what I found," said Andy Lombard, who spotted Kristin Hopkins' crumpled, overturned Chevrolet Malibu some 120 feet down an embankment and climbed down to help.
"I wish I could have found her sooner."
Hopkins, a 43-year-old single mother of four, went missing on April 27. On Sunday, Lombard and his wife Hope were driving on the highway, when he spotted something amiss and told her to pull over.
"I happened to look out the window at the right time at the right place and I saw a car upside down in the aspen trees," he said.
"It was a horrific crash scene," he said.
He clambered down, peered through the tinted windows of the wreck, saw what he assumed was a dead body and called police.
When Fairplay Police Chief David Gottschalk got to the road above the embankment and looked down, he saw the mangled red Malibu and debris scattered about.
He was certain the driver must be dead and was stunned when two firefighters who went down yelled up, "She's alive."
Even more shocking: a red and white umbrella propped up against the side of the car was not just a vestige of the crash but an SOS note a desperate Hopkins had scrawled with a marker.
Kristin Hopkins wrote messages on an umbrella and stuck it out her wrecked car window.
"Thirsty + hungry," she had written.
"Six days no food or water."
"Please help. Can't get doors open."
"Need doctor. Hurt and bleeding."
That was no exaggeration. When first responders broke open the window, they found a severely injured woman slipping in and out of consciousness, her face horribly bruised.
"Like she had been in a 13-round fight with Mike Tyson," Gottschalk told NBC affiliate KUSA.
The Jaws of Life were used to pry Hopkins from the heap of twisted metal and she was flown to the hospital, where doctors found they would have to amputate both her feet.
"Kristin was seriously injured and with multiple internal and external injuries," her family said in a written statement.
"Doctors were not able to save her feet due to the severity of those injuries. Kristin is in critical but stable condition at this time and has a very long road ahead."
But she's alive — an outcome that the police chief could scarcely have imagined. Most people wouldn't have lived through the plunge, much less the frigid nights with no food or water, he said.
"Miracle," he said. "That's probably the best word I could use."
Lombard agreed, recalling how terrible he felt when he first got close to Hopkins' car and saw it was totaled.
"It was very devastating at first," he said, "but truly a miracle that she pulled through it."
He shrugged off praise for what he did, saying it was luck he happened to see the car in a grove of trees, barely visible from the highway.
The real hero of the ordeal, he said, is Hopkins herself.
"Truly she is a woman of endurance," he said. "I'm really proud of her for hanging on."
St. Anthony Hospital via Reuters
Kristin Hopkins, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, survived for days trapped in the wreckage of her car after driving off a mountain highway.
First published May 6 2014, 2:05 PM