The family had been missing for nearly 48 hours, and rescuers began to worry that the six people, three of them toddlers, could not survive that long in the freezing Nevada wilderness.
On Sunday, a couple and four children ages 3 to 10 went out to play in the snow near Lovelock, about 90 miles northeast of Reno, and failed to return home. Though rescue teams immediately began searching for the family, the chances of survival in the isolated, rugged terrain seemed slim, especially as temperatures dropped as low as minus-16 degrees at night.
"I'm hoping they all huddled together and stayed in the Jeep," Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen had said. "That would be the best-case scenario."
That lucky hypothetical turned out to be a reality, and on Wednesday, a day after the family was rescued, details of how the six survived began to trickle out — how they kept warm by keeping a fire going and by heating rocks.
"The fact that it's just mild exposure and dehydration and they're not going to have any long-lasting health problems associated with this, I think it's amazing," Dr. Douglas Vacek of Pershing General Hospital said at a news conference in Lovelock on Wednesday.
Scores of Lovelock residents had joined the search for James Glanton, 34; his girlfriend, Christina McIntee, 25; their two children; and a niece and a nephew. On Wednesday, McIntee and daughter Chloe, 3, were released from the hospital, the Associated Press reported. And although none of the six were seriously injured, Glanton remained hospitalized along with son Evan, 4; niece Shelby Fitzpatrick, 10; and nephew Tate McIntee, 3.
Chris Montes, who knows the family and was one of the first people to get to them, said he was surprised they were in "perfect condition." He said the kids were chatting with him as if they had just been on a camping trip.
"I hate to say it, but I wasn't expecting the best," Montes said in an interview with CNN.
Mark Turney, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which runs the area, was equally grim. "It's got to be brutal out there," he told reporters Tuesday morning. "Let's hope they are found quick."
They were spotted just before noon Tuesday. Their Jeep had toppled and slid down an embankment on its roof. They had planned for nothing more than a day trip, so the family didn't have blankets or extra food. And they couldn't use the car's engine for warmth because the car had flipped.
The couple immediately started a fire to keep warm in the snow-draped Kamma Mountains, burning wood and brush, according to the Pershing County Sheriff's Office. The pair managed to keep the fire going for the entire time they were stranded, and even removed a spare tire from the car and placed heated rocks inside the tire to keep the children warm at night.
"They didn't leave the vehicle; they didn't panic," Vacek said, noting that frequently people who leave to get help never return.
None of the family members suffered injuries from the car accident or had any signs of frostbite, he said.
In a statement Wednesday, the family thanked the "valiant search and rescue efforts" and the "care and love from our community and the nation."