Survivor of Ninemile car crash recounts 36-hour ordeal pinned inside wrecked car
Updated On: Aug 06 2013 08:40:09 AM MDT
It's an amazing story of survival, and the will to stay alive -- the man who survived 36 hours pinned in a car spoke to NBC Montana Monday.
It all started with a wrong turn, and it ended with rescuers in the right place, at the right time.
A U.S. Forest Service crew found the man in a wrecked, rented Chevrolet Impala, west of Missoula.
Shaun Lee of Monks Corner, South Carolina, is recovering at St. Patrick Hospital.
On Monday, he thanked his rescuers for saving his life. He thanked the U.S. Forest Service, firefighters, emergency workers and St. Patrick Hospital.
In his hospital bed, Lee is alert, friendly and in good humor. That says a lot. He said he has a broken neck and contusions on his spinal cord.
But he is alive, thanks to a team of rescuers.
The 30-year-old South Carolina man traveled from his southern home to North Dakota for work in the oil fields.
But when he got there, he decided to keep heading west to Missoula to get a job. He has family in Missoula.
He was trying to get to a motel in Huson, and made a wrong turn up West Ninemile Road.
Lee said the car lost traction, and hit wet grass.
"Emergency brake on, got the foot brake on," recalled Lee," it's going faster and faster, next thing I know she flipped upside down and boom."
That was sometime after midnight on Thursday.
Inside the smashed car, he lay conscious, and pinned by the steering wheel.
"You can try to unbuckle the seat belt, pull your legs out," thought Lee, "but your legs are like a pair of balloons, which tells me I'm paralyzed."
He stuck a floor mat and Gatorade bottles behind his neck to stabilize it.
There was Gatorade, Mountain Dew pop and water in the car. But his fingers wouldn't work.
"I couldn't open a single bottle," he said.
He slept some. He honked the horn till it went silent.
"I did say my 'Our Fathers' and 'Hail Mary Full of Graces,'" said Lee.
Hour after hour, no cars passed. But he did hear a plane. He worried about wild animals.
Then on Friday morning, he heard "Hello is anybody in there?"
He remembers a guy named Benji. That would be Forest Service worker Benji Hegg, who is also an EMT.
"He sat right there outside my window, and kept me level headed," said Lee, "He saved my life."
Other rescuers followed. They used the jaws of life to get him out.
Lee said he owes the Forest Service, emergency workers, firefighters, the hospital, his life.