A desperate search for a couple and four children missing for two days in the freezing cold of Nevada's rugged mountains turned jubilant when rescuers guided in part by cellphone signals and footprints in the snow found them alive and well near their overturned Jeep.
About 200 people had searched by land and air after the group of six failed to return Sunday from a trip to play in the snow near their hometown of Lovelock, in Nevada's high desert.
"They stayed together and that was the key that allowed them to live through this experience. You don't see that that often in search and rescue," said Paul Burke, search-and-rescue coordinator for the state. "They did some pretty unusual things, heating up rocks and things. Staying together, that was a big deal."
Their Jeep had overturned just off a road. A member of the rescue team said the engine would no longer start, but the group stayed in the upside-down vehicle for shelter, burning the spare tire to keep warm.
"Their father kept them alive and well," said Patty Bianchi, CEO of Pershing General Hospital, where the six were taken. "Everybody is in good shape. There was no frostbite. They are stable. They suffered a little exposure and dehydration, but that is all."
About 100 well-wishers lined the street outside the hospital and broke into cheers when two of the smallest children were taken from an ambulance. The others walked into the hospital on their own.
"The mood where I'm at's ecstatic," said Colonel Tim Hahn of the Civil Air Patrol, which used several planes to search for the group. "We are thrilled beyond words."
Rescuers began scouring the Seven Troughs Area wilderness on Sunday night for James Glanton, 34; his girlfriend, Christina McIntee, 25; their two children, Evan and Chloe Glanton; and Shelby Fitzpatrick and Tate McIntee, a niece and nephew of McIntee's. The children range in age from 3 to 10.
The situation grew more dire as overnight temperatures in Lovelock dipped to minus-26 degrees Celsius.
A cellphone forensics team analysed which towers the woman's phone was in contact with during their trip, giving searchers a better idea of where they might be, Hahn said. They were so far out in the wilderness that they apparently were unable to call for help, although there was enough signal strength to leave a basic electronic trail from the early stages of their ordeal, air patrol officials said.
Search volunteer Chris Montes said he and two rescuers with him first spotted children's footprints in the snow Tuesday morning, then followed a set of Jeep tracks until they found the flipped vehicle and the family beside it.
"They just said that they knew somebody was going to find them," Montes said.
"Everybody is looking at this like it's a miracle," said Gail Powell, spokeswoman for the Nevada Division of Emergency Management. "They were savvy enough to figure out what to do to stay alive but everybody was quite concerned because temperatures hovered so low."
The discovery prompted a wave of relief on social media.
"Very glad to hear the missing family in Lovelock has been found and they are safe!" Goveror Brian Sandoval tweeted. "Thank you to all who worked so tirelessly to find them!"
The Seven Troughs area is named for seven parallel canyons below Seven Trough Peak, elevation 7474 feet. It is about 20 miles southeast of Black Rock Desert, where the annual Burning Man counterculture festival is held.
Most of the roads are dirt and more easily travelled by ATVs or other off-road vehicles.
Seven Troughs is a popular area for hunting chukars, a pheasant-size winter game bird.
"So it's not the kind of area where there would be nobody around," Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy said. "But most chukar hunters are smart enough not to go out in the weather we have now."