Dana and Elizabeth Davis had spent nearly five grueling days stranded in their car in the rugged Arizona mountains during a snowstorm when they finally realized they needed to venture out for help.
The car had run out of gas, and their rations of sandwiches, cookies, chocolate bars and juice were depleted. Dana, 86, bundled in multiple layers of clothing, put socks on his hands for warmth as he and 82-year-old Elizabeth started walking.
What happened next became a story of incredible tragedy and survival. Elizabeth collapsed just 15 to 20 feet into the walk, her body in a weakened state after five days in the cold. Dana forged ahead, walking eight miles, spending a night under a tree and leaving behind pieces of his wife's knitting yarn to create a trail to the body.
The former Boy Scout and World War II Navy vet was found by an officer with the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation along a desolate, dirt road and taken to a hospital, where he spoke with reporters Friday about the ordeal. He lost about 20 pounds and was covered with a white blanket, but otherwise was in good condition, at the hospital in the mining community of Globe. He hopes to be discharged from Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center on Saturday.
The Albuquerque couple had been visiting with nephew Jim Mills in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler and began their drive home Dec. 1 along U.S. 60 _ a route that would take them through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, N.M., where Elizabeth Davis had once been president of the a friend's group. The side trip was one of countless journeys they had made in their 60 years together, visiting Asia, South America and the jungles of Borneo to watch orangutans.
They accidentally ended up on a different highway. Realizing their mistake, the couple consulted a map and decided to take a forest road that connects back to the main road.
"I should have turned around right then and gone about five miles back to where I had turned in," Dana Davis said. "So, I goofed right there."
The couple drove their Buick for miles up the forest road, passing a sign that said "pavement ends" but continuing on. Davis said he wasn't worried, because he had driven the Alaska-Canadian Highway before it was paved.
"So that's the second time I goofed," Davis said.
The road became more and more impassable the farther they traveled. The car bottomed out several times, punching a hole in the transmission oil pan and making it impossible to drive anymore.
They were stuck, miles from anywhere, with no cellphone and no one knowing of their whereabouts. They knew they could be there for some time given the desolate nature of the area. They had two sandwiches, four cookies, two chocolate bars and two cans of juice.
"We knew it would probably be a while before somebody found us, so we started rationing ourselves right away," Dana Davis said at the news conference next to his son and daughter, who live in the San Francisco and Philadelphia areas.
Dana was upbeat, but Elizabeth was worried. She wrote letters to her children and grandchildren. They ran the engine at night to stay warm but eventually ran out of gas and decided to seek help.
"She was pretty convinced she was not going to get out of there," said Davis, who worked 40 years in aerospace engineering for General Electric Co. and also served in the Navy during World War II. "Me, I'm pretty stubborn. I was going to walk until I found someone."
The walk was too much for Elizabeth, known as Betty to her family.
After his wife collapsed and died, Dana Davis moved her body away from the road and resumed his walk. He hiked from 10 a.m. until sunset Tuesday and found a spot under a tree to spend the night. The next day, he started walking again in attempt to find any sense of civilization. He encountered snow that was piled several feet high along the road.
Finally, an officer with the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation appeared in an SUV, and he was saved. His yarn and other markers led them back to his wife of more than 60 years.
Authorities returned the fabric, and Davis displayed it Friday at the news conference _ a handful of red and blue pieces of yarn that he had left on trees to mark the route.
When asked at the news conference how he is coping, Davis said: "It really hasn't hit me that hard yet. ... I don't feel as though I really realize she's gone."
The couple's son, Bob Davis, and daughter, Lani Sexton, said the letters their mother wrote are a legacy.
"The letters to my kids, myself, my sister, her kids. It's almost like she knew. She knew that that was it. The letters were very poignant," son Bob Davis said.
Both children, although devastated by the loss of their mother, beamed at their father.
"It's amazing, don't you think," daughter Lani said. "He's 86, and I think it bodes well for my brother and I, for our lives. Our family's always had humor, and that's what gotten us through the last 36 hours since we got to town here, and we're hugely proud."
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