Boy’s angel sighting leads to rescue of injured snowmobiler, Colorado

 

Nine-year-old Keith Winkler describes the little girl and her angel wings that appeared to him and pointed out the location of Terri Wood.

Keith Winkler drew this picture of the angel that appeared to him while he was snowmobiling near Four Mile Park. Keith believes the angel showed him the location of Terri Wood, who was nearly buried in the snow.

Terri Wood describes what the impact felt like the moment she struck a tree with her snowmobile. Wood was air-lifted to St. Mary’s Hospital, having suffered a broken back.

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January 30, 2004 - Reported in [the Post Independent.com]. Written by By Kara Williams. If it weren’t for 9-year-old Keith Winkler and a little girl with pigtails and angel wings, Terri Wood may not have been rescued after she hit a tree with her snowmobile Saturday. Keith was finishing up a day of snowmobiling with his father, Carroll Winkler, and family friends along the Sunlight to Powderhorn trail about 3:30 p.m. Keith was riding double with Dave Pace of Breckenridge as the group headed down the trail toward the parking lot when Keith hollered at Pace and pounded on his back to pull over.

“There’s a little girl screaming for help!” shouted Keith. “I looked at him like he was crazy,” said Carroll. “I was following 30 seconds behind, and didn’t see or hear anyone.” But Keith was adamant and grew frustrated that the grown-ups didn’t believe him. “He said, ‘I swear, Dad. I saw a little girl in a blue jacket screaming for help,’” recounted Carroll. As soon as Carroll, Pace and his wife, Pam, and Katherine Bernhart, Carroll’s fiancée, turned off their snowmobiles, they heard the screams, too.

But they were coming from a grown woman. The group quickly headed back up the trail, following the calls for help. “We hear you, we’re coming!” yelled Carroll. Terri Wood lay in the snow about 15 feet below the trail, hidden by pine trees and half-buried near her snowmobile. When Keith peered down to her from the trail, he told his dad, “That’s not her. There was a little girl in a blue coat.” Carroll yelled down to Wood, “Are you alone?” Because she misunderstood their question, Wood apologized, crying, “I promised everyone I wouldn’t go out alone. But I did.” There was no little girl in the vicinity. No signs of a little girl. “Not even a footprint,” said Keith from his home on Thursday. “Keith’s vision must have been Terri’s guardian angel,” said Carroll. “There’s no other explanation whatsoever.”

Always wears a helmet - When Wood, 47, set out on her snowmobile Saturday at about 12:30 p.m., she planned on riding for only 30 minutes to an hour. Dressed for the sunny day, she wore a thin snowmobile outfit and no gloves. But she did wear her helmet. “That was one rule I’d never break,” she said from her Glenwood Springs home Thursday, where she is recovering from a back fracture, bruised knees and a bruised jaw from the impact of the helmet. It was her first time out on her brand-new 2004 sled, but she had received about 20 hours of instruction on three previous outings. “I thought the trail went straight, and it actually turned,” said Wood, who added she may have been blinded by sunlight. “I realized what was happening, and turned the throttle wide open, trying to get back up on the road,” she said. Instead, Wood went off the trail, hit a tree head-on and flipped over the handlebars, landing in a tree well face down in three-foot-deep snow.

‘It was an angel’ - After locating Wood, nearly three hours after she crashed, Keith said he was a little “scared and nervous.” Keith’s dad said his son was frustrated and couldn’t figure out where the little girl might be. Said Carroll, “He couldn’t understand that what he found was not what he saw.” Keith recounted the experience from his West Glenwood home on Thursday, with his twin brother, Kyle, and mother, Debbie Winkler, looking on. He said he saw clearly a little girl “that had a blue jacket on, screaming bloody murder, ‘Help! Help!’”

Keith, a fourth-grader at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, said the girl was “about my age with brownish-blondish hair and pigtails.” “It was an angel,” he said. And although he said she didn’t have a halo, he may have seen “little, tiny angel wings behind her” as she was waving her arms for help. “God chose me to be the one who saw her,” he said. Debbie Winkler, who said she and her boys are churchgoers but not unusually religious, wonders what would have happened if Keith hadn’t seen the little girl that led the group to Wood. She said, “I think it’s a miracle.”

‘I thought I was going to die’ - From the trail, it was very difficult to see Wood below, according to Clem Lundberg, supervisor of Sunlight Snowmobile Tours. The company’s operations base is on Four Mile Road, three miles below the accident site. “One of my tour guides drove right past her,” said Lundberg. “She couldn’t have been in a worse place.” Wood and her snowmobile were camouflaged by thick pine trees below the trail. “If you stood right on the edge of the trail and looked down, you might have seen her,” Carroll said. After the impact, Wood managed to dig her head out of the snow and take off her helmet, but she remained buried waist deep. She was cold and in extreme pain throughout her body.

“I thought I was going to die on that mountain,” said Wood, who repeatedly screamed for help when she heard snowmobiles passing on the road above her. The last of the day’s snowmobilers were coming down the trails, but no one could hear Wood over the sound of roaring engines. Wood said she prayed a lot. “I kept saying all the names of who I loved,” she said.

Rescuers arrive on the scene - After realizing the severity of Wood’s accident, Carroll rode his snowmobile from the accident site to the touring center to call 911. A Glenwood Springs Fire Department ambulance responded, according to Lundberg. In the meantime, three men from Iceland who lead snowmobile tours in their home country and who had just finished a tour with Sunlight Snowmobile Tours offered their help. Trained as first responders, the Icelanders immediately headed to the accident site with snowmobile guide A.J. Whitney, who brought a sleeping bag to keep Wood warm.

Lundberg also called Sunlight Mountain Resort, hoping at nearly 4 p.m. to still find some ski patrollers on the mountain available to help. Sunlight ski patrol director Norm Wheeler, mountain manager Ross Terry and lift supervisor Jason Roadcamp hopped on snowmobiles, one fitted with a tow-behind rescue toboggan, to the site of the accident. Wheeler, who has an extensive training in backcountry rescue, took charge of the scene. With the help of the others, he got Wood on a backboard. “We were working in three-foot-deep snow,” said Wheeler, a Sunlight patroller for more than 20 years. “It was a rough and difficult rescue.”
The group of men lifted Wood and carried her up to the road. They secured her to the tow-behind rescue sled and brought her to the Sunlight Snowmobile Tours parking lot. An ambulance brought her to the Sunlight Mountain Resort parking lot, where a Care Flight helicopter landed and then flew Wood to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.

‘I’ll remember that boy’ - Released after just a one-night hospital stay, Wood wants her rescuers to know how grateful she is. “From the people who helped dig me out to the people in the helicopter to the people who worked on me in the ER, I am so thankful,” said Wood, who took up snowmobiling for therapeutic reasons, hoping to strengthen her arms, legs and trunk after a car accident years ago left her with an injured spine. Lundberg called the rescue one of the smoothest he’s ever seen. “Everyone knew what they were doing. Everyone was experienced,” he said. “It went quickly; a half-hour after we got to her, she was out.”

“After spending more than two hours in the snow, time is critical,” continued Lundberg. “She is extremely lucky.” Wood knows how fortunate she is, and is especially grateful to Keith Winkler. “I’ll remember that boy for the rest of my life,” she said. Wood says Keith saved her life. But Carroll Winkler prefers to say “God used him” to help Terri. He thinks that vision of the little girl — the angel — that Keith saw may have been “God’s way of getting his attention.”