Rick Santos was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the Hotel Montana when the earthquake struck. He and five colleagues were trapped under the rubble for over 50 hours, surviving only on chewing gum and a Tootsie Pop.
He was pulled from the wreckage late Thursday, and he was reunited with his wife early Saturday morning in the United States. Santos is the president and CEO of IMA World Health Organization. He described the ordeal to ABC News' Bill Weir Saturday on "Good Morning America Weekend."
Bill Weir: A few moments ago, Kate [Snow] told us about some of the amazing rescues at the once-luxurious Hotel Montana. Among them on Thursday night, a man named Rick Santos, pulled from the wreckage of his hotel after spending more than 50 hours in a coffinlike space with five colleagues. He is back home in Silver Spring, Md. He reunited with his wife last night. It is so good to see you both there safe and happy. We have your moment [reuniting] at the airport. Rick, in your seven years of marriage, where would you rank this embrace?
Rick Santos: I would say the same as my wedding day. I mean, it was just amazing to see my wife again.
Weir: And Silvana, for you?
Silvana Santos: Yes, good morning, Bill. For me, it was a moment of ecstasy and joy, and I was over the moon to see Rick.
Weir: So Rick, take us back through it. You were just finishing a meeting there at the Hotel Montana. What do you remember about the quake, and what do you remember about all those hours afterwards?
Santos: We were finishing a meeting. Some other colleagues of mine were coming. We were going to have a second meeting. We were walking across the entrance way, across the lobby to the restaurant. As we did, all of a sudden, everything started to shake. I would say maybe no more than three seconds and everything just fell. I mean, collapsed completely.
All I remember is darkness and dust in my throat and being thrown on the ground. And then all of a sudden, I was conscious. I don't think I was really unconscious for any time. We started calling out for our friends, our colleagues. There are six of us total, Sam and Bill and Clint and Sarla, my colleagues from IMA and Anne. We were like, "Are you there? Are you OK?"
We were basically trapped. We were actually saved by the front desk. Two beams, probably about eight feet apart fell, and were held up by the wood on the front desk. You could hear it cracking. Basically the space was 8-by-5 by 3 feet high. We felt around. Everybody was OK.
Two of our colleagues, Clint and Bill, were -- Clint and Sam, sorry -- were injured. They were crying out for help. We just tried to give them as much comfort as we could. I actually had my, I was holding my computer bag. I had a little bottle of Aleve. I was able to actually get them some pills while they were laying on the ground, they were both pinned down by the feet.
Trapped in Earthquake Rubble: 'Our Goal Was Survival'
Weir: I know you also shared a Tootsie Pop after 36 hours that you had carried for your son. Did you prepare yourself for death? What was the darkest moment?
Santos: The darkest moment was, when, on the very first -- after the first night, the next morning -- we heard, actually, the brightest moment was we heard tapping, somebody with a sledge hammer. We started just screaming and shouting at the top of our lungs and banging on the walls and on the pillars. And whoever it was banged back. We thought, 'We're going to be rescued in the next few hours." I don't know who that was. I don't know. Maybe they were a recon team or whatever. They left and never came back that day. Then the whole next night, we were like, 'Where did they go? Why did they leave us?"
Weir: I can't imagine.
Santos: I think at that moment, we thought we were gone. I mean, I think our goal was survival. I mean everyone was trying to say, "Let's just survive as long as we can."
Weir: You've devoted your life to alleviating human suffering with your aid organization. It's so great that you're happy, healthy, safe back at home. I wish we had more time for you.
Santos: Thank you so much.