Two Maine women with intellectual disabilities are doing well now, even though they spent five days trapped in a Jeep with almost no food or water as outdoor temperatures dipped to -15 degrees.
Last Tuesday, Kimberly Pushard, 51, and Angela Bussell, 50, of Topsham, Maine, decided to venture out to a bowling alley in South Portland, about 40 miles south of Topsham. The two hopped into Pushard’s Jeep Compass and headed out, but they were used to taking only short drives by themselves and soon made a wrong turn.
One wrong turn then became several wrong turns, and by midnight on Wednesday, the two women found themselves as far away as Candia, New Hampshire, nearly 100 miles southwest of South Portland.
Their families filed missing persons reports about the two women early Wednesday morning, after Pushard's cell phone pinged from New Hampshire and then died. A silver alert for missing vulnerable adults was quickly issued, and rescue teams began conducting a search by air and land vehicle. Despite these efforts, the hours and days ticked by, and family and friends were nearly sick with worry.
Meanwhile, Pushard and Bussell had become desperately lost. They had stopped several times to fill up with gas and to ask for directions. They even crossed into Massachusetts at one point, though by 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, they were once again back in Maine.
In fact, they were quite far north in Maine. Sometime on Wednesday, they turned onto a deserted snowmobile path near Nicatous Lake, about three hours north of their hometown of Topsham and four hours north of the bowling alley in South Portland. After they drove a bit further down the snowmobile trail, the Jeep became stuck in the snow, and the women were trapped.
Becoming stranded in the snow turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because they were so far from civilization, Pushard and Bussell were forced to stay put. And at 4 p.m. on Sunday, five long days after they got stuck, they were finally rescued by game warden Brad Richard.
Richard later recalled that when he first spotted the red Jeep, he had a bad feeling. There were no footprints in the snow and no exhaust coming from the car. However, after he announced his presence twice, Pushard opened the driver's side door, poked her head out, and said, "Hello."
The women, ignorant of the massive search that had gone out on their behalf, also wondered how Richard knew their names. "Well, we’ve been looking for you," Richard told them.
The Jeep had run out of gas on Saturday morning, so Pushard and Bussell sat in the vehicle without heat for about 36 hours, even as temperatures dipped as low as -15 degrees. They also had almost no food or water except for a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, which was frozen and half-empty. So Richard gave the women what remained of his lunch and called for help.
The women were taken to a hospital in Lincoln, Maine. Bussell was treated for frostbite and released the same day, but Pushard was kept overnight for observation. In the end, she seemed to have suffered only a few bruises and pulled muscles.
"She just talked and talked," Patsy Pushard, Kimberly's mother, said about that night in the hospital. "She sounded happy, just like the usual Kimmy."
"I want to thank everyone," Patsy Pushard later added. "And when I was searching for our daughters, Judy Bussell’s daughter and my daughter, I thank you so much. Thank you, the warden especially, for finding them safe and sound. It means the world to me."
Richard said afterward that he did not initially intend to explore that remote snowmobile path but did it anyway on a hunch.
"[For] some reason, I decided to go north and follow the sled trail," he said, added later, "Those things don’t always happen by chance. I think kind of was meant to be."
"We don't get a lot of happy endings with us, usually, it seems like," said Topsham Police Chief Marc Hagan. "So, this is pretty cool."
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