Dec. 19, 2007 -- It could only be called a Christmas miracle.
A father and his three children were found alive today in the Northern California wilderness more than three days after the family had disappeared during an annual trek to cut down the family's Christmas tree.
Freddy Dominguez, 38, and his three children from a former marriage, Christopher, 18; Alexis, 15; and Josh, 12; disappeared Sunday.
The four family members arrived this afternoon in two helicopters. First came the two younger children and then the older teen and father. All four were mobbed with hugs, blankets and cheers.
Hours later, after he had been checked at a local hospital, Freddy Dominguez described three harrowing nights in the wild as he tried to keep his children from panicking and succumbing to the numbing cold.
"You just want your kids to be safe and you're just praying, 'God, keep my kids alive,"' he told a crush of reporters who had gathered at Feather River Hospital in Paradise.
The rescue came as their family and friends were starting to lose hope, with another storm moving in and beginning to dump yet more snow in the foothill region about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
"I'm just amazed how well they did," said Lisa Sams, after seeing her children and ex-husband for the first time since they went missing. "It was like butterflies in my stomach, like if you were going to go on a very first date."
The four appeared to be in good shape as they bounded from a California Highway Patrol helicopter that made successive flights to bring the family to safety. The father smiled as he stepped out of the chopper to cheers from family and friends, then was whisked to the hospital with his children.
A snow-hampered search had turned up no sign of the family except for Dominguez's yellow Chevrolet Silverado, which was found on the side of the road Monday -- a few hours after Dominguez's ex-wife and mother of the three children reported the four missing to local authorities.
"He called around 1:45 p.m. to ask if I had an extra Christmas tree stand, and I said no," Lisa Sams said. "And then that was the last time I heard from them."
In more than three days since the family was reported missing, Butte County Search and Rescue had led a team that included dozens of trained volunteers and dogs. Search teams worked their way through area cabins that the family may have used as a shelter.
"It's a very difficult area and they've been really fighting against the weather," Madde Watts, a search coordinator for Butte County Search and Rescue, told ABC News' San Francisco affiliate KGO-TV before the family members were found. "We're at least hoping that we can find them holed up in one of the cabins up there that we haven't been able to get to yet."
Up to 18 inches of snowfall, which by Tuesday had turned to freezing rain, initially complicated the effort, but the weather cleared enough to use helicopters Wednesday.