Kristin Hopkins wrote pleas for help on a red-and-white umbrella that she managed to push through a broken window of her crashed car and open, hoping to attract the attention of drivers on a scenic highway above.
Still, it was five days before anyone spotted the flipped car 80 feet down an embankment on U.S. Highway 285 in a Colorado aspen grove.
Authorities said people driving Sunday over the high spot overlooking the sprawling ranchlands and surrounding mountains of the South Park area hiked down and alerted authorities that they thought there was a body inside the car, but rescuers later found Hopkins alive, conscious and coherent but critically injured and extremely dehydrated.
Hopkins was flown by helicopter to St. Anthony Hospital in suburban Denver, Park County undersheriff Monte Gore said. She remained in critical condition Monday, hospital spokeswoman Loralee Sturm said.
Investigators say she went off the right side of the roadway near Fairplay while navigating a left curve on Red Hill Pass on April 29, the same day she was reported missing in Douglas County, where she lives.
Hopkins was entered into a statewide police database as a missing person but since she is an adult and there were no indications of foul play, there was no active search for her.
The firefighters who rescued her initially thought they were on a recovery mission. When they arrived at the car, firefighter Jim Cravener asked a colleague to break a window and feel for a pulse.
“He started to break the window and she put her hand up to the window,” he said. “At that point, it became a rescue.”
Cravener said her notes on the umbrella were hard to make out, but appeared to say, six days, no food, no water; please help me; and need a doctor.
“It’s really something off that ‘Shouldn’t Be Alive’ show,” Cravener said. “She really had a strong will to survive.”
Cravener said sightseers often stop at the spot but usually in the fall when the leaves are turning color. It was just by chance that somebody would stop at this time of year, he said.
Firefighters called for a helicopter, which arrived in about 15 minutes and landed 400 yards farther down the hillside. Then, rescuers set to work cutting into the vehicle, pulling out Hopkins, and taking her to the helicopter. It was a complicated extrication because of the location, Cravener said.
Cravener said Hopkins was fairly responsive at first, even telling her rescuers she was not hurt. But they could see her face was badly bruised, possibly by the steering wheel or air bag.
“She didn’t talk a whole lot. She started to become less responsive as we carried her down the hill. We had to keep waking her up,” Cravener said.
Cravener said Hopkins’ car had gone off the road at a fairly sharp corner at the top of a pass where others have had similar accidents. But he said he had never found a car as far down the slope.
The area has had spring snow storms but not bitterly cold temperatures in the past several days, but the ground was clear of snow on the day Hopkins was found.
Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.