Vernon man followed intuition to find wife injured, freezing down 200-foot embankment after crash - InfoNews

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Vernon man followed intuition to find wife injured, freezing down 200-foot embankment after crash

Trevor Koenig found his wife, Caroline, injured and unresponsive late Monday night, Dec. 4, 2017, following a car crash on Highway 6.
December 08, 2017 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - Trevor Koenig knew something was wrong when his wife Caroline didn’t come home Monday night.

His concern had been growing since he got home from work earlier that day. She wasn’t there.

“That wasn’t necessarily a big deal, but then dinnertime came and she wasn’t back so I tried calling her and the phone rang in the bedroom,” he says.

He knew his wife of 33 years likes to take drives sometimes to relax and clear her head, but never late into the night. He thought maybe she drove out along Highway 6 to visit their son, who lives east of Cherryville. It was his birthday, after all.

Maybe her car broke down along the way.

“I figured if something happened, someone would call me,” he says, adding he phoned the hospital to see if she was there. “I thought if she had car trouble, she’d get to a phone and call me.”

By 8 p.m., he couldn’t sit in the house any longer. He was going to go look for her.

By that point, he was worried, but never started panicking. Before leaving, he filled two duffel bags with jackets, food and water. He threw in his wife’s parka and her fur hat.

“I even packed a big hammer in case I had to break a window to get in. It seemed silly to me at the time but I thought I’d cover all the bases.”

And then he started driving.

“I was just doing 30, 40, 50 km/h and watching the side of the road,” he says.

There were few cars on the road at that time of night, hardly any the further east he travelled on Highway 6 — a rural, two-lane highway that, apart from the communities of Lumby and Cherryville and a few sporadic households, runs through complete wilderness. Once he got into the mountains, it got easier to look for tire tracks because of the snow.

Eventually, after driving more than 100 km, he got to his son's house. Her car wasn’t there. Not wanting to worry his son on his birthday, he didn’t stop in or call. Maybe, he thought, she would just be back at home.

“I thought, if I’m wrong, she’ll be at home and I’ll look like a giant idiot unpacking two duffel bags of stuff.”

He turned around and started working his way back along Highway 6.

Squinting into darkness, he searched for any possible sign. Was that a snow drift, or tire tracks? Something made him stop.

“I thought, ‘did I see tracks back there? I better look again.’ I just started to get a feeling that I should go and look again.”

He put his car in reverse and backed up about a quarter mile.

Vernon Search and Rescue members couldn't wait for a winch to pull Caroline Koenig up the 150- to 200-foot embankment — she was already suffering from hypothermia after being exposed to the elements for nearly 12 hours by that time.
Vernon Search and Rescue members couldn't wait for a winch to pull Caroline Koenig up the 150- to 200-foot embankment — she was already suffering from hypothermia after being exposed to the elements for nearly 12 hours by that time.
Image Credit: Vernon Search and Rescue Group Society

There they were; faint tracks going off the road. He got out with his flashlight, but didn’t see anything at first. About ready to turn around, he suddenly saw it: a mangled vehicle, resting about 20 metres down the embankment. 

His first thought: It must be someone else’s vehicle.

As he shone the light closer, he realized with horror that it was Caroline’s car.

“I phoned my mother in law and told her to call 911. I said ‘I found her,’” he says. “She said ‘is she okay?’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”

He then began to make his way down to the vehicle. 

“I looked inside the car and she wasn’t in there. I thought ‘great, somebody saved her. Somebody got to her.’”

But if someone had saved her, surely there would be footprints around the car and leading up to the road. His were the only tracks.

Then he noticed her purse lying a distance away in the snow.

“Caroline, Caroline,” he called out into the darkness.

No answer.

He began making his way down the steep, treed slope, falling and getting back up multiple times.

“Then I saw her. Just a lump in the distance. She was tangled up in a tree down below,” he says.


No response.

Gently, he lifted his wife’s head and looked into her eyes.

“They were wide open and she wasn’t blinking. She didn’t answer. I thought she was dead for sure,” he says.

Then she blinked.

Koenig started working fast, breaking away the branches and unpacking the gear he’d brought. He put the parka on her and they waited.

“She thought she was imagining that I was there,” he says.

When he found her, it was about 11 p.m. and he figures she’d been stranded there for about eight hours already. She gulped down two of the four bottles of water he packed.

“She said she’d been eating snow,” he says.

Police were dispatched from Nakusp and it took them about an hour to arrive, Koenig estimates. When they got there, they didn’t have any equipment capable of pulling Caroline up the long, steep, treacherous embankment. An officer brought down some warming packs and they waited together for more help to come. The Lumby Fire Department was next to arrive.

“The Lumby guys only had 60 feet of rope. We were probably 200 feet down from the road,” Koenig says.

Relief came with the arrival of Vernon Search and Rescue. Members hooked up a rope and pulled Caroline to safety in a basket. That happened around 2:30 a.m.

“It took them a half an hour total, I think. They didn’t do it the normal way because of how long she’d been out there. I thought they were using a winch but it was a bunch of guys pulling on a rope. They were great, amazing,” he says, adding his immense appreciation for all the first responders. 

Caroline suffered hypothermia and a broken arm. She had surgery yesterday, Dec. 7, and is expected to make a full recovery and be back at Blenz, the coffee shop they own on Anderson Way, in no time. On Thursday, Koenig couldn’t get very far through the coffee shop without concerned customers asking about Caroline.

Koenig says it’s a blessing his wife doesn’t remember much of the accident, or the long hours spent lying in the woods on the side of the road.

“I was so worried about how she must have felt for eight hours. I was thinking ‘how (would it feel to) sit there for eight hours freezing knowing you’re going to die there because no one’s coming?'"

He fights back tears and takes a deep inhale to collect himself.

“It all worked out.”

Many are calling the story, and how he found her, a miracle.

“I know it’s an amazing story. But for me, it didn’t seem like an amazing thing to find her. I knew I was going to find her, I didn’t think anything else. Maybe it was a little intuition on my part. I just felt like that’s where she would be,” he says.

The video below shows the dramatic rescue. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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