Dec. 12, 2012 at 9:07 AM ET
Trapped alone in a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Paula Lane made a tearful video to say goodbye to her 11-year-old twin boys, because she thought she was not going to make it out alive.
Lane, 46, had gone four-wheeling with boyfriend Roderick Clifton, 44, on Nov. 29 when his Jeep became caught in a snowdrift off State Route 88 in Hope Valley, Calif., near Lake Tahoe. After one night together in the Jeep during a blizzard, Clifton decided to venture into the storm the next day to find help, and never returned. His body was found six days after the ordeal began.
Left alone without water, blankets, cold weather gear, or cell phone reception for four days after Clifton left the Jeep, Lane recorded a video goodbye to her sons. The Nevada woman made it out alive, surviving for six days by eating snow and some green tomatoes they had with them on the trip. She was rescued by her brother and his friend while shivering in the hollow of a tree off the highway.
“I’m so sorry this has happened,’’ Lane tearfully says in the video for her sons. “I just want to come home. As soon as the sun comes out, I’m going to have to try to make it. It’s seven miles in six feet of snow. Nobody’s ever going to find me here at Burnside Lake.’’
Alongside her brother, Gary Lane, and his friend Brian Roff, Lane spoke with Matt Lauer on TODAY Wednesday about the harrowing experience and saying what she thought might be her final goodbye to her children.
“It’s really hard,’’ Lane said about watching the video. “That’s only the fourth time that I’ve seen it. When I first made the tape, I wanted it to be more of a happy goodbye. I knew it was going to be a goodbye, I felt. Once I started talking, I almost felt like somebody else was there with me, and I’m getting to release to somebody. It was the first time I cried since the ordeal had begun, and to watch it now, it’s surreal.’’
Lane had pleaded with Clifton not to leave the Jeep while the storm was still at a high intensity.
“As I helped him to prepare to walk out, he got about 30 feet away, and I rolled down the window and I said, ‘Hey Rod,’ and he turned around, and I said, ‘Let’s just wait for the storm to break - at least one more day,’’’ she told Lauer. “He just kind of threw his hand up in the air and just kind of tromped off with confidence as if he was going to be back in an hour or so.’’
After not hearing from his sister for six days, Gary Lane enlisted Roff's help and commandeered a tractor with a front-end loader to search for her by clearing snow. When he stopped the tractor for a minute to have a conversation with Roff, he heard the loud whistle he had once taught his sister in case she ever was in danger.
“Her and her boyfriend had an occurrence of disappearing up there once before and they came back, and there was other surrounding things that told us that they were there,’’ Gary Lane told Lauer. “There was an occurrence where Brian and I had to stop and turn the tractor off because we had a little discussion about moving farther up in the snow, and when we did, I turned the tractor off and I heard her.’’
Lane found his sister just in time, as her body temperature was starting to drop. She also had found Clifton’s body, six days after the ordeal had begun.
“I had kept my core heat the whole time, but about 20 minutes before they had found me, it started raining, (with) raindrops this big around, and my core just started getting really wet,’’ Paula Lane said. “I just thought this is it, ‘I’m not gonna make it this time.’’’
She had never met Roff, so when he picked her up and put her in the tractor’s bucket, she didn’t know it was her brother driving the tractor until she saw him out of her peripheral vision.
“(Gary) just said, ‘I knew you were here, I knew you were here, I got you, I got you, I got you,’’’ she told NBC News.
“We were going to do whatever it took,’’ Roff told NBC News. “We weren’t coming back without her.’’
Paula Lane suffered first-degree frostbite, and her doctors said she is lucky she did not have to have her toes or feet amputated.
“Emotionally, I think I’m coming along a little bit better than physically, remarkably,’’ she told Lauer. “I’m getting there.’’
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