RALEIGH, N.C. — Amber Pennell was trapped for five days in her mangled pickup, hidden under vines in a steep ravine in western North Carolina only 150 feet away from a four-lane highway.
Without food and water, she might have died if rescuer Tommy Courtner hadn’t spotted tire tracks and damaged foliage by the side of the road on Monday. When he stepped farther down into the ravine to investigate, he saw part of a white truck obscured by kudzu.
Courtner called out her name and Pennell raised her hand from the wreckage. By Wednesday the 21-year-old mother was recovering in a hospital from a fractured skull and limbs, but was expected to recover fully with rehabilitation.
Pennell went missing last Wednesday night after stopping at a Wal-Mart on her way home from work at a barbecue restaurant in Lenoir, about 60 miles northeast of Asheville. The weather was clear at the time and the cause of the wreck was being investigated.
She picked up some Hot Pockets and drinks at the store, but she couldn’t reach them after the wreck because her legs were pinned. She did reach out to a set of invitations for her daughter’s upcoming third birthday party.
“It looked like she had been reaching for them at some point,” said Keith Davenport, Caldwell County’s emergency service manager. “I guess when you’re watching the sun rise and set, you think about things like that.”
Bloodied and injured, she was alert. Davenport said the first thing Pennell asked about was her children, Gracelyn, 2, and Cameron, 1. Gracelyn turns 3 on Friday.
A family friend said her husband waited by the roadside as the rescuers pulled her out of the ravine.
“I love them so much. They did the best job. They didn’t give up,” he emotionally told reporters Monday night. “I’m so thankful my baby’s alive.”
The discovery was emotional for the whole town.
“When they loaded her in the ambulance and the sirens began, there was a loud roar of applause that drowned out the siren,” Davenport said.
Bob King, a regular at Hannah’s Bar-B-Que where Pennell waited on him many times, said finding her alive after five days was a miracle.“There was prayer lifted up for her all over this county in all the churches,” King said.