Man Trapped In Snowy Wreck Survives a Week

Dec. 11, 2002 -- A West Virginia man whose car plunged 150 feet into a snowy ravine told today how he ended up trapped in his car for six and a half days, surviving on melted snow, taco sauce packets and small fires he started to keep warm.

Robert Ward, 32, of Kermit, W.Va., was driving to his security guard job at the Pen Coal mine last Monday when he lost control of his car. He found himself stuck in his wrecked car, five miles from his workplace, and two miles from the nearest residence in the backcountry of Wayne County.

Neither the headlights nor the horn of the 1985 Ford worked, and though he could sometimes hear searchers nearby he was too weak to call out.

"I thought it was a lot worse," Ward told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America . "I started praying shortly after that. It took like 3½ days before I could get from one side of — from the passenger side in my back seat to the driver's side … which didn't do any good."

He was found about noon Sunday by Terry Likens, captain of the Dunlow Volunteer Fire Department where Ward is an emergency medical technician.

By the time Ward was found, he had just about given up. He suffered a broken hip in the crash and had frostbite on both of his feet.

The area had been hit by the first major snowfall of the year, and temperatures remained below freezing. To stay warm, Ward ripped the lining from the interior of the car's roof and used it as a blanket.

He also melted snow to drink and burned whatever paper was in the car — including his EMT manual. His hands were so blackened from soot that rescuers thought they were severely frostbitten and would have to be amputated.

Ward's only food came courtesy of a messy bachelor's car. He had an old jar of peanut butter and Taco Bell hot sauce packs.

"I wasn't worried too much about food at first, but I had some of the border sauce that you get from Taco Bell, and I like that stuff anyway," said Ward.

Searchers from the Dunlow and Kermit volunteer fire department, law enforcement agencies, the state divisions of natural resources and forestry and Pen Coal had been scouring the area for Ward. Massey Energy donated a helicopter for an aerial search Friday.

On Sunday, Likens and a companion searched the ravine with a pair of binoculars, and nearly missed the spot. It took a few minutes before they were able to find the vehicle, a light blue and white car covered with brush.

But Ward heard their car and voices and started yelling.

"I just went through it one day at a time," he said. "As a matter of fact, when I finally got rescued, I didn't really believe I was being rescued."

Ward is in serious condition following surgery Sunday at St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, West Virgina.