PHOENIX — Arizona transportation worker Zach Moralez knew something wasn’t right when he saw a damaged fence along a highway.
Tracks went off the edge of the road and through the fence on the edge of the hill. Moralez, a highway operations technician, knew there had to be a car at the bottom.
“We got down there as quick as we could, hollering out if anyone could hear us,” Moralez told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “No response.”
He, his co-worker and his rancher brother didn’t find anyone in a mangled vehicle that had dropped 50 feet (15 meters) and landed on a mesquite tree. But they didn’t give up.
With help from an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper they called, the group found a 53-year-old woman curled up in a dry riverbed, seriously injured from the crash and severely dehydrated after spending six days in the desert.
“She was in the fetal position, and there was no movement,” Moralez said. “We started asking her a bunch of questions: ‘How long have you been here? Do you have any pain?’”
Despite being somewhat lethargic and in pain, she was alert enough to open her eyes and answer questions. Moralez said she was dirty from sleeping on the ground and had facial trauma — likely from the crash.
She was airlifted to a hospital about 15 minutes later, ending her six-day ordeal in a rural area. It’s not clear how she survived, but temperatures were relatively mild — dropping to the mid-50s at night and reaching the low 80s during that time period.
The woman recounted how she was driving on U.S. 60 on Oct. 12 when she lost control of her car, according to the trooper. She stayed inside the car for several days before trying to walk toward some railroad tracks to find help, but she was too weak to make it, authorities said.
Her footprints led Moralez and the others to her on Oct. 18.
DPS spokesman Quentin Mehr said the woman is declining all media requests and did not give any details about her current condition.
DPS Director Col. Frank Milstead commended the transportation workers and the rancher.
“Due to their outstanding efforts, this woman’s life was saved,” he said in a statement.
Moralez said it’s a good feeling to know that he helped make the difference between life and death for someone.
“I believe people are put in the right place in the right time,” he said.