A passenger on a Colorado tourist railroad saw something that was not part of the rugged scenery along the Animas River, setting in motion the dramatic rescue of a New Mexico woman who had battled the elements to survive after breaking her leg in a fall.
“It’s an amazing feat that she survived two nights in the cold snap we are having,” emergency management spokeswoman DeAnne Gallegos said, according to the Durango Herald.
“Our team thought that was pretty miraculous. And that she was aware the train was still running, and managed with a broken leg to crawl to the bank of the river to try and signal them,” she said.
It all began on Monday, Oct. 11, the Herald reported, when a Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Train passenger saw the woman waving on the far bank of the river, about five miles outside Silverton, in the southwestern part of the state.
“The 911 operator very quickly asked me if we had the name of the individual,” railroad Superintendent Darren Whitten told the Herald. “She explained to me that there had been a hiker that was overdue and had been missing since Saturday, and that her parents had been frantically looking for her.”
Following the diesel was an inspection motor car. The train crew notified the motor car, which then waited across the river from the woman for help to arrive, the Herald reported.
The next train on the line had Nick Breeden as its engineer, and his wife, Kylah Breeden, as its fireman.
“And our fireman, Kylah, is also a trained paramedic with the Durango Fire Department,” Whitten said. “So once they arrived, she gathered emergency supplies from the train and proceeded across the river with the assistance of Nick.”
Sounds easy. It was not. Temperatures had dipped overnight into the 20s. The fast-flowing water was icy and in places chest-deep. Kylah Breeden inventoried the woman’s injuries and her husband brought essential supplies across the river, wading back and forth.
“They determined she was in pretty rough shape,” Whitten said. “She had spent two nights out dressed in a manner that wasn’t appropriate for spending a night up in the canyon there. She was dehydrated and she had taken a fall. And it was obvious she had a severe break in her leg. It was visibly offset.
“She told Kylah that during the night she had crawled up next to a nearby cliff face and kind of tucked in to try and keep warm,” Whitten said. “And then during the day, she would crawl out to the side of the river to try and make contact with anyone coming along the train tracks.”
A CareFlight helicopter was called in, but the cliff was a complication that made a landing near the woman too risky. A railroad employee used his car to bring rescue workers to the scene. Eventually, a system was rigged to bring the injured woman across the river on a backboard. She was then placed on a gurney and taken to the helicopter for a flight to the hospital.
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Gallegos said the railway workers “were the rock stars of this situation. She owes her recovery to them.”
Whitten praised the passenger who spotted the woman, noting that the chance to see her was very slim.
Anthony Montoya, the father of the rescued woman, said after her injury, she had hoped to be seen from the railroad tracks, according to the Denver Gazette.
“No telling what she went through that night,” Montoya said. “She’s a bright young lady. She kept positive. That’s how she made it out.”
Gallegos said the rescue was an exercise in teamwork.
“It literally took helicopters, trains and automobiles,” she said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.