By Elisha Fieldstadt and Erin McClam, NBC News
A couple and four children who survived two days in the sub-zero Nevada mountains, apparently because one of them built a fire and heated rocks to load into their rolled-over Jeep, expressed thanks Wednesday for “care and love from our community and the nation.”
In a statement released by the hospital where they are recovering, the six called their rescuers “valiant” and asked for privacy.
One of the children, a 10-year-old girl, signed her name in blue ink in big, careful, cursive letters.
The statement offered no new details on the group’s harrowing two days in the frigid cold of the mountain range. The six — James Glanton, his girlfriend, Christina McIntee, their two children and McIntee’s niece and nephew — were found in fairly good shape Tuesday after a rescuer spotted the Jeep. The children range in age from 3 to 10.
The rescuer, Chris Montes, said that Glanton built a fire inside a spare tire, used brush and wood from nearby for kindling, and heated rocks to take back to the Jeep. His ingenuity was hailed as the difference between life and death.
The temperature on the range was 21 degrees below zero Sunday night, and below zero again Monday night.
Authorities called the group’s survival miraculous and suggested that at least one of them might have died had they tried to walk to safety rather than holing up in the car to stay warm.
“It’s a miracle. It really is,” said Richard Machado, the Pershing County sheriff.
The ordeal began after the couple and children failed to return Sunday from a trip to play in the snow near their hometown of Lovelock, in Nevada’s high desert, about 100 miles northeast of Reno.
The Jeep had been seen Sunday “doing wheelies or doughnuts” at a mining camp in Seven Troughs, a dispatch supervisor said. Officials said the couple had not taken food or water with them.
The sheriff’s office got word shortly late Tuesday morning that the Jeep had been found, rolled on its roof, with the group inside, “down off a little slope,” said Leslie Steward, a police dispatcher.
The Associated Press reported that Montes first saw what looked to be children’s footprints in the snow before spotting tire tracks that led into a remote canyon but not back out.
The Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper reported that Montes and another searcher, Salvador Paredes, hiked to the spot. Paredes went to find cellphone service while Montes approached Glanton. Glanton was startled at first, Montes told the newspaper.
“And he reached out and caught me, and he probably thought I was his wife first,” he said. “He looked up and saw my face, and it surprised him a little bit.”
“I think everybody was thinking the worst for a little bit,” said Montes, a longtime friend of Glanton’s who hunts in the area.
U.S. Civil Air Patrol and a search-and-rescue team started looking for the couple and children when they were reported missing Monday.
Nevada wing Civil Air Patrol Col. Timothy F. Hahn said that the family was found “four miles from civilization.”
Hahn said the search team focused on areas without cellphone reception because the last indication of the group’s cellphone activity was early Sunday night.
The CEO of the hospital said that the couple and children had not suffered frostbite but had “some exposure issues and dehydration.”
“I’m relieved that God answered our prayers,” a cousin, David Mosier, told NBC affiliate KRNV. “They just told me that they found them and that’s all I wanted to hear.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.