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Helena woman shares survival story after more than a day outside in the cold

Posted at 6:28 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 20:28:34-05

A Helena woman says she feels lucky and grateful, after she and two others were stuck in the mountains for more than a day.

“I already got the best Christmas present in the world,” said Sandy Hyer.

Hyer shared her story from St. Peter’s Health in Helena, where she is recovering. She was airlifted to the hospital Tuesday, after first responders reached her in the area of Nevada Creek Road, outside Avon.

Hyer said she went for a drive Sunday afternoon with her fiancé, Eldon Hochstetler, and a friend, Jeff Purdy.

“We decided on Sunday – it was such a beautiful day – that we were going to go for a ride and possibly get a little Christmas tree,” she said.

However, Hyer said their truck began to slide, eventually crashing into a tree, near an embankment.

“If that tree wasn’t there, we probably wouldn’t have been found until next spring,” she said.

They weren’t able to move their vehicle. Hyer said they had sleeping bags, but didn’t have food or water.

Hyer said Hochstetler and Purdy tried to start a fire, but weren’t able to. She said they got some heat for around an hour by burning paper soaked in a bottle of baby oil she had, but that didn’t last long.

“When it started getting so cold and we had no heat – our battery was dead – all three of us sat here and just prayed, but we got through the night okay,” she said.

On Tuesday, the three decided to walk out and try to reach help. Hyer said she wasn’t able to make it very far. However, Hochstetler said he was eventually able to reach an area with weak cell phone service and call for help. Shortly after, he found a local rancher on a four-wheeler, and he and his wife were also able to assist.

Eventually, the Avon-Elliston Quick Response Team, Montana Highway Patrol, Powell County Sheriff’s Office, Powell County Ambulance and Life Flight all responded. Hyer was taken to Helena by helicopter, while Hochstetler and Purdy were transported by ambulance.

John Carlbom, an advanced EMT with Powell County Ambulance, praised the team effort it took to get all three out safely. Hyer echoed that sentiment.

“When the helicopter was leaving with me onboard, I saw a line of cars – I guess it must have been everybody in that little town – plus the tractor with their lights on, helping the helicopter be able to leave,” she said. “I thought that was really sweet.”

Hyer said she had hypothermia, a fractured ankle and some minor frostbite on her fingers. Hochstetler and Purdy said they had more serious frostbite on their feet. However, all three now say they’re improving.

Hyer said they are thankful for all the help they’ve had.

“Right here at Christmas time, it shows the Christmas spirit and how kind people are – to get together and help three strangers,” she said.

Hyer said, now, they hope someone will be able to help them recover their truck, because many of their possessions were inside.