A family of four and two friends can count their lucky stars, and the fact that they were all wearing seatbelts, for surviving a nearly 400-foot plunge down a Colorado mountain ravine.
Joe Sullivan hit black ice while driving along a pass south of Ouray, Colo., last Saturday, sending the van toward a drop-off with no guardrail.
"I tried to brake and nothing happened," Sullivan told NBC's "Today" show on Tuesday. "As we first started down, we thought that was the end," he said. "But as we kept going further and further and realized nothing got us, nothing got us, nothing got us, there was a lot of hope and we just wanted to stop."
His wife, son and daughter, as well as a friend of his daughter's and her dad, were also in the Pontiac van heading back to Montrose after a high school basketball game in Durango.
"I thought we were done for," Terry Holman, the friend's dad, told The Denver Post. "It didn't give you a whole lot of time to think," he recalled, having seen it all from the front passenger seat. "I never dreamed of going off Red Mountain Pass and living through it."
Five of six climbed up ravine
The van rolled a few times, but Sullivan told the Post he didn't count. "I'm not sure," he said. "I shut my eyes."
The van landed with the driver's side facing down, yet all six were alive and conscious.
The fact that the minivan wasn't moving at high speed and thick snow covered the ravine probably kept the van from falling at a faster pace or rolling over more times, Sullivan said. And the seatbelts kept the six from bouncing around inside.
Only Sullivan's wife, Linda, had to be carried out on a stretcher by rescue crews, who helped the others climb out of the ravine.
But even Linda Sullivan was back at home by Saturday night.
"I was very surprised everybody was OK," rescuer Sam Rushing told the Post. "They've got a heck of an angel watching over them."
Crash quickly spotted
The six also lucked out that a couple in a car behind them noticed the minivan disappeared after taking a curve.
"We rounded a corner ... and the minivan was no longer in front of us," Skip Garcia told the Post. "I glanced down and noticed tire tracks in the fresh, slushy snow headed over the embankment. We glanced up ahead and realized that the vehicle was no longer in front and that it had to have gone over.
"I had a sinking feeling knowing no one could survive that sheer drop," he added, but "I looked over the edge, and ... to our amazement people started to exit the vehicle."
Terri Garcia, in the meantime, was using the Onstar satellite feature of their SUV for the first time to call for help.
"I yelled down for them to stay put," Skip Garcia added, "that help was on its way."