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Video: Hiker’s survival: ‘That drive to live was so strong’

  1. Transcript of: Hiker’s survival: ‘That drive to live was so strong’

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 7:49 with the preschool teacher who survived a harrowing ordeal in the Oregon woods. She was on a camping trip and fell off a cliff, and it took rescuers four days to find her. And now that woman, who is still recovering in the hospital, is sharing her story for the first time . Here's NBC's Miguel Almaguer.

    Ms. PAMELA SALANT: It's just like that like drive to live was like so strong for me.

    MIGUEL ALMAGUER reporting: Pamela Salant beat the odds, the 28-year-old teacher who today is recovering in the hospital after being plucked last week from an Oregon forest. This is where Salant spent four long days and three cold nights, lost, injured, and alone in the wilderness .

    Ms. SALANT: And I just like really felt like I just wasn't done yet.

    ALMAGUER: Salant was hiking with her boyfriend when the pair split up to find a campsite. She was out of view when she slipped, falling nearly 50 feet off a cliff, her leg broken and sliced open.

    Ms. SALANT: I didn't feel the initial pain until I woke up the next morning, and like, 'Whoa!' Like, 'Where am I? How did this happen?' Because I had fallen asleep right where I had fallen.

    ALMAGUER: With no one in sight, Salant was covered by a canopy of green. Search teams in the air and on the ground couldn't see her, wearing a tank top and shorts, she was cold. Soon she was hungry and thirsty.

    Ms. SALANT: I just tried to make sure I was like right by the river the whole time, just to get as much water. And then, there was salmonberry bushes around and raspberry bushes and, like, Oregon grapes.

    ALMAGUER: But as hours turned to days, the berries weren't enough.

    Ms. SALANT: I was trying caterpillars, and I like tried a bite of a slug and, I don't know. I was just like, it looked -- it was like plump and juicy and I don't know, it looked really tasty, but it was not tasty.

    ALMAGUER: Barely eating, but still hopeful, she says she passed the days thinking about people in her life.

    Ms. SALANT: Just had a lot of like, people's like faces in my head that I loved, and just like, just kind of my life was like on rewind.

    ALMAGUER: Then the big break came on day four.

    Unidentified Rescuer #1: Base, go ahead.

    Unidentified Rescuer #2: Helicopters spotted somebody to the middle of the creek on a rock waving.

    ALMAGUER: A helicopter could see Salant , and she was fairly sure she could see them.

    Ms. SALANT: It was like, I was like hyperventilating. Like, I can't believe it's real.

    ALMAGUER: With a broken leg and a fractured back, doctors say Salant will make a full recovery, a young woman who survived because she refused to give up.

    Ms. SALANT: I didn't realize I had that in me. I definitely surprised myself.

    ALMAGUER: For TODAY, Miguel Almaguer, NBC News, Los Angeles .

    CURRY: The will to live is so powerful.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: But, you know, you always ask yourself the question, what could I endure? And here's a lady who found out. She's pretty strong.

    CURRY: I think we all, actually, are stronger than we might guess. Anyway, also coming up, the divorced father behind this controversial blog called thepsychoexwife.com.

TODAY contributor
updated 9/7/2011 6:57:06 PM ET 2011-09-07T22:57:06

Employing shrewd survival skills after badly breaking her leg while hiking famed Mt. Hood, a plucky Portland, Ore., preschool teacher survived three cold nights in the wild, using moss for a blanket and making a meal out of bugs and slugs until searchers finally found her.

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"I didn’t realize I had it in me … I definitely surprised myself," 28-year-old Pamela Salant told NBC News in a TODAY report Tuesday by Miguel Almaguer. "I just really felt like I wasn’t done yet."

Salant was planning an idyllic weekend with her boyfriend Aric Essig when the pair headed out for an overnight hike at Mt. Hood’s Bear Lake July 30. The couple dumped their gear at a campsite, but decided to split up and look around for an even better locale to spend the night.

But things went decidedly downhill from there for Salant. While hiking solo, she slipped and fell nearly 50 feet off a cliff. She fractured her left tibia and her leg was split open.

‘Where am I?’
Salant settled in where she fell, initially not realizing just how badly she was hurt. "I didn’t feel the initial pain, so I woke up the next morning and [was] like ‘Whoa, where am I, how did this happen?’ " she told NBC. "I had fallen asleep right where I had fallen."

Story: 'Almost flying': Climber survives 1,000-foot fall

Boyfriend Aric reported his girlfriend missing, but rescue workers were stymied in their search. Authorities initially found Salant’s shoe prints from where she fell, but no Salant.

The reason? The gutsy schoolteacher was scooting on her backside alongside Lindsey Creek trying to reach the Columbia River, where she figured she had a better chance of being spotted and rescued. Meanwhile, Salant battled for survival, clad only in a tank top and shorts and woefully short of any supplies.

Story: Wife: Writing notes helped keep missing hiker alive

To keep water at hand, she stayed near the creek. For sustenance, she found salmon berries and raspberries. But as one day turned into another, her improvised menu became a bit wilder.

"I was trying caterpillars, and I tried a bite of a slug," Salant told NBC. "I didn’t know, I was just like, it was plump and juicy. It looked tasty. But it was not tasty!"

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Tiring and barely able to scoot any further, Salant said she passed the time mentally replaying her life, wondering if the thoughts might be her last. "I just had a lot of people that I loved, like faces in my head, and just kind of [put] my life on rewind."

Story: Woman survives 2-story plunge from mountain

Salant tried to keep her hopes up through four days and three nights in the wilderness. She managed to scoot a mile and a half, but unfortunately, a nearby waterfall muffled the sounds of rescue helicopters when they began to zero in on her, leaving Salant oblivious to their effort.

Then, on Aug. 2, she got a big break. A helicopter crew spotted a woman wading in Lindsey Creek, waving her arms. A National Guard helicopter arrived on the scene and lowered a guardsman to Salant.

Video: Hiker’s survival: ‘That drive to live was so strong’ (on this page)

Salant admitted she wasn’t sure whether she was actually being rescued, or just dreaming. "I was like hyperventilating, like I can’t believe it’s real."

But it was real: Salant's nearly 96-hour ordeal was over. She was transported to Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where doctors operated on her broken leg and treated her for multiple back injuries and severe cuts, NBC affiliate KGW-TV reported. A day after being rescued, her condition was upgraded from critical to fair.

Story: Girl, 11, recounts her four-day ordeal in swamp

And though Salant is expected to be out of commission for two months while she nurses her injuries, her concerned friends and family are thankful Salant returned to them in one piece, and in awe of her determination.

"So that was Saturday, Sunday, Monday night — three nights," her friend and co-worker Desirae Marks told KGW. "She’s strong enough, she’s got it. Oh my gosh!"

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