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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Taco sauce helped keep crash victim alive 6 days

December 11, 2002

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— Freezing and hobbled by a broken hip, Robert Ward burned paper for warmth and melted snow to drink. His only food was what he could get out of an old peanut butter jar and sauce packets from Taco Bell.

For more than six days, the 32-year-old coal mine security guard survived in below-freezing temperatures in his wrecked car after it plunged 150 feet into a ravine.

He may have been about to lose his survival battle Sunday when he was finally rescued.

"I don't think he would have made it through the night," said Terry Likens, captain of the fire department where Ward is a volunteer emergency medical technician. "He told us when we found him, he said he was getting ready to go to sleep for the last time. He had just about given up."

Ward underwent surgery Sunday at a hospital in Huntington. Both of his feet were frostbitten.

On Dec. 2, Ward's car went off the road, falling 150 feet and hitting a tree that destroyed the vehicle's headlights and horn.

A few days later, the season's first snowstorm struck, and temperatures plunged below freezing for several days.

To stay warm, Ward ripped the lining from the car's roof and used it as a blanket. He also burned paper, including pages from his EMT manual, and melted snow to drink. The taco sauce and peanut butter provided his only nourishment. There were two soft drink cans in the front seat, but Ward could not reach them until Saturday.

"It's a bachelor vehicle. It catches a little bit of everything," Likens said.

Searchers from two volunteer fire departments, law enforcement agencies, state natural resource and forestry workers and coal mine employees scoured the area. A coal company donated a helicopter for the search.

As Likens and a companion searched the ravine with binoculars, Ward heard their car and voices and started hollering.

"He asked us to pinch him so he knew he wasn't dreaming," Likens said. "He said he had a lot of weird dreams while he was down there. He dreamed two or three times when people would come by and didn't get him out."

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