Two snowboarders lost in the mountains were rescued by helicopter Tuesday after they endured three frigid nights holed up in snow caves that are credited with saving their lives.
Adam Putnam, 36, an emergency room physician and an experienced winter camper, and his fiancee, Rachel Fehl, 30, a nurse, suffered some cold toes and mild dehydration but were otherwise OK.
The pair spent a couple of hours at St. Vincent Regional Medical Center on Tuesday after a National Guard helicopter plucked them from a ridge where they had stomped SOS in the deep snow.
After two days of severe weather that kept the search on the ground, Tuesday's clear and sunny skies allowed helicopters to look for the pair, who had been in intermittent cell phone contact with authorities since they got lost outside the Santa Fe ski area Saturday.
The two had a shovel with them to dig snow caves for shelter, said Peter Olson, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.
"Snow caves do work. They do save lives, and in this case I think it was the difference for them," Olson said.
Hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado said the Albuquerque couple also had a backpack hydration system with them that they filled with snow and stuffed into their clothing to melt, the spokesman said.
"It didn't melt very quickly, but they did manage to get some hydration from it," Delgado said.
They slept on pine boughs in the caves, although they were sleepless for the first two nights, Delgado said.
"She said it was just too cold to sleep, and of course there was the anxiety factor," he said.
Other snowboarders still missing
Searchers had to cope with whiteout conditions in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains east of Santa Fe, where the National Weather Service said low temperatures ranged from 33 degrees on Sunday to 16 degrees on Tuesday.
The couple contacted authorities at least four times Tuesday by cell phone, and searchers homed in on their location by tracking their calls, Olson said.
"Every time I get to talk to you it feels like a miracle because I shouldn't have a battery in this phone anymore," Putnam told a dispatcher during a call Tuesday morning.
State Police Lt. Rick Anglada said they were found about five miles south of the search team on the ground. The couple had told authorities they were north of the ski area, Olson said.
"Somehow, the snowboarders got turned around," he said.
One of the Guard helicopters spotted Putnam and Fehl, who were standing and waving their hands near the top of Little Tesuque Peak, Anglada said.
"They had stamped out SOS in the snow with their feet," he said.
Putnam's father, Steve Putnam, said his son had "done all kinds of avalanche survival training" and was experienced in winter camping.
In Colorado, meanwhile, the search resumed for two Albuquerque snowboarders, Michael George and Kyle Kerschen, both 27, who have been missing near Wolf Creek Ski Area in southwestern Colorado since Saturday. Wolf Creek is about 170 miles southwest of Denver.
George's mother, Laura George, said the men were unprepared for cold nights in the open, and that they probably didn't have much food or water.
The search area has received more than 4 feet of snow in the past three days, Mineral County Sheriff Fred Hosselkus said.