HE WAS LOST IN THE FRIGID WILDERNESS FOR EIGHT DAYS
Eric LeMarque was usually the most careful of snowboarders. But on Feb. 6, 2004, in a rush to hit the slopes and distracted by a recent breakup with his girlfriend, Sheri Van Den Eikhof, he left the Mammoth Mountain ski resort without most of the essentials he habitually carried. “I figured three hours of riding and then I’d hit the Jacuzzi,” says LeMarque, 35.
On his final run, the former professional hockey player decided to take a secluded trail. Fog and darkness quickly closed in, and LeMarque was lost. With nighttime temperatures plunging into single digits, he took stock of what he had: a dead cell phone and an MP3 player. He ate pine nuts and bark to stay alive.
The next morning he headed toward a different lodge rather than climb to Mammoth. He ended up only deeper in the woods. He checked his feet and was horrified to find them blackened and bleeding. “I knew I had to get out of there,” he says. So he turned around and headed toward Mammoth, using the radio signals he picked up on his MP3 as a compass. He struggled to travel several hundred yards each day and spent two mostly sleeping. Surrounded by three coyotes at one point, he screamed until they ran off. But on the eighth day a helicopter rescue crew found him, using infrared imaging to locate his body heat—and were surprised to find him alive.
Suffering from severe frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration, LeMarque had his legs amputated six inches below each knee. He was fitted with prosthetic feet and, after months of rehabilitation, walked down the aisle last June with Van Den Eikhof, 39. LeMarque hopes he will soon get back to the slopes. His surgeon, Peter Grossman, promised to go with him, but adds, “I’ll be navigating. I’m not letting him lead.”
HOW HE SURVIVED
LeMarque used his snowboard to dig out a shelter and ate pine nuts and bark. He used his MP3 player to navigate toward Mammoth Mountain resort. “I just tried to stay focused,” he says. “My goal was to reach the summit.”
BOBBING IN DEEP WATER AFTER HIS BOAT DRIFTED AWAY, AN 80-YEAR-OLD MAN SWIMS FOR HIS LIFE
Ignacio Siberio always looks forward to the weekly spearfishing trips he takes with his nephew Carlos Lopez and friend Roberto Garcia. But on Dec. 11, when neither man could make it, Siberio, 80, a still-practicing civil lawyer, decided to go it alone. He sailed his 25-ft. boat about seven miles off the Florida Keys despite the gusting winds and choppy water. “I shouldn’t have been there,” he says.
Donning fins, mask and the top portion of his wet suit, he dove into the chilly ocean with a speargun. After three hours of unsuccessful hunting, he decided to head home. “I came to the surface. When I looked around, the boat was gone,” he says. A winter storm front had moved in, bringing gusting winds that dislodged the boat’s anchors. Siberio battled the swift current for several hours swimming after the boat but couldn’t catch up. “It was terrible,” he says.
Exhausted and treading water, Siberio was battered by waves about eight feet high. “I was worried I was going to be swept into the Straits of Florida,” he says. Incredibly, after about an hour, he spotted five one-foot-long buoys floating together. “I think it was a miracle,” he says. He swam to them and held on for dear life. As the moonless night fell, Siberio tried to relax in temperatures that dipped to the low 60s. He spent several hours reviewing each of his current real estate cases. He also thought of his family having a big meal at Christmas without him, which saddened him because “I would not [be there to] enjoy it,” he says.
Meanwhile, Garcia and Lopez, along with the Coast Guard, had spent a fruitless evening searching for Siberio. They set out again early the next morning for Siberio’s favorite fishing spots. Battling heaving seas, Garcia and Lopez decided to venture farther from land and saw an astonishing sight. “He had cut the buoys and wrapped them around him and was swimming,” says Lopez. Siberio climbed aboard—and refused to go to a hospital Upon arriving at his Tavernier, Fla., weekend home, Siberio was greeted by cheering loved ones led by his wife, Gloria, 68. He has since been spearfishing several times. “My lesson is you have to be careful,” he says. “Fortunately I was able to bring happiness instead of sadness by coming home.”
HOW HE SURVIVED
As the temperatures dropped overnight, he worked at trying to relax. “I realized the only way I was going to make it…was with my mind,” he says. The next morning, thinking he might not be rescued, he started swimming once more toward shore.
SMASHED BY A QUARTER-TON OF FLYING ROCK, A TEEN GETS SOME LUCKIER BREAKS
“Boulder! Rock! Rock!” hikers about 10,000 feet up Washington’s Mt. Adams began shouting as a 500-lb. boulder started to hurtle down the slope. Jamie Hunter couldn’t hear them. Out climbing with 11 other University of Portland students on Sept. 21, 2003, the experienced mountaineer had decided to slide down a steep, snow-covered stretch. “I remember thinking this was fun but very scary,” says Hunter, who turns 21 on April 2. “I didn’t hear a thing except the noise of me sliding. And then nothing.”
The boulder, careening along at an estimated 50 miles an hour, smashed into Hunter’s back and flung her 25 yards down the slope.
With massive internal injuries, Hunter was perilously close to death as another climber used his cell phone to call for help. Then a series of remarkable coincidences began to fall into place: The first climber to reach her was Army Maj. Greg Nyberg, who phoned the Washington Air National Guard and ordered that a chopper be sent to attempt a rescue. One of the next to arrive was Idaho physician Kelly McGrath. Then came Tacoma ICU nurse Susan Tyler, who joined the team trying to stabilize Hunter.
Minutes after Jamie was helicoptered to Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Hospital, her heart stopped. However, heart surgeon Jonathan Hill just happened to be in the ER. He opened her chest and massaged her heart by hand until it began beating again. Says Dr. William Long, who led the ICU team: “It took a series of miracles to bring her back.”
Today, after six months of hospitalization and ongoing rehab, Hunter has returned to school, though her left leg is now half an inch shorter than her right. “Yes, a big rock did hit me,” she says. “But I beat it, and now I’ll just move on with my life.”
HOW SHE SURVIVED
Jamie stayed positive and kept her sense of humor. “Throughout everything she was upbeat, with a smile that would brighten any room,” says John Hunter of his daughter’s year-and-a-half-long recovery. “I never heard her say, ‘Why me?’ I’m so proud of her.”
A SURFER SAVES HIMSELF FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH
Sitting on his surfboard 200 yards off Northern California’s Samoa Peninsula Beach last November, Brian Kang was waiting for a wave when—BAM! “Suddenly this giant force hits me from my left side—like a linebacker,” the 38-year-old father of two remembers. “I look over and I see this huge black tail fin sticking out of the water.” Kang had run into every surfer’s worst nightmare—a great white. “It had me in its mouth,” he says.
“Brian was off his board and there was all this churning water, like a violent whirlpool,” says Jennifer Savage, one of two pals who had gone surfing with Kang and their kids that day, but who was 40 feet closer to shore.
The shark, which an expert later estimated at 18 feet, momentarily released its hold on his left hip and legs, and Kang, bleeding, scrambled back on his board. But within seconds the great white surfaced alongside, almost face to face. After trying unsuccessfully to push away the shark, Kang punched it in the snout—a relatively sensitive part of the shark’s anatomy. “I cut my hand in its mouth. It slices my thumb pretty bad. At that point it goes back underwater.”
Kang knew he had to paddle for his life. After what seemed like forever—but was closer to five minutes—he finally made it to shore. Beachgoer Aaron Franck called 911, and Kang was rushed to the hospital. Shark bites had severed the patellar tendon of his left leg, cut his left hip to the bone and come dangerously close to shearing his sciatic nerve (which would have left him partially paralyzed).
After three months of rehab, Kang, a mapping technician, is once again walking normally. And back on his board. “I just feel a deep connection to the ocean,” he explains. “I’d rather take my chances out on the water than driving on an L.A. freeway.”
HOW HE SURVIVED
Kang punched the shark in the snout, getting it to leave him alone. Then, despite the pain in his wounded legs, “I knew that I would have to grit my teeth,” says Kang, “and totally paddle.”
By Pam Lambert and Bob Meadows. Ron Arias in Los Angeles and Andrea Billups in Miami