The 30 miles of switchbacks that snake through the pine-feathered mountains of Logan Canyon in Utah are enough to make most drivers’ palms sweat.
But Roger Andersen, a 46-year-old father of four, wasn’t expecting any trouble on the road last New Year’s Eve, when he set off for an impromptu ski trip to the Bear River Mountains with nine-year-old daughter Mia, four-year-old son Baylor, and nine-year-old neighbor Kenya Wildman. Andersen had driven through the canyon hundreds of times over the years.
“We ski in that area at least 20 times a year,” says Andersen. “I know the spots that ice up a lot in the winter.”
The weather was glorious for hitting the slopes—30 degrees and sunny—but the higher they drove, the slicker the roads became. Rounding a notorious hairpin turn at mile marker 473, Andersen saw a van that had skated off the road and instinctively tapped his brakes. In an instant, the Honda Accord was sliding at 25 miles per hour toward the shoulder of the highway, then lurching down a steep ten-foot embankment toward the frigid Logan River. As it hit the water, the car tipped toward the passenger side, hesitated, and then rolled onto its roof and sank into the river.
There was no time to tell the kids what to do. The crash had shattered a few windows, and within seconds, the cab of the upside-down car was filled with water. “It was frightening how fast we were completely underwater,”remembers Andersen, a soft-spoken product development manager. “You’re thinking, Is this how it’s all going to end?”
Disoriented, Andersen began to search the freezing water for the kids. Mia had been right next to him in the front seat; now, in the blackness, he couldn’t find her. “I thought, If I don’t get out, maybe none of us are going to get out.” Andersen wriggled out of his seat belt, swam through a broken window, and gulped air at the surface. That’s when he saw a group of men, about ten in all, appear at the top of the embankment. One after another, they raced down and waded into the water, shouting, “Who else is in the car?” Andersen says reverently, “It was like the sight of angels.”
Video: Watch the rescuers describe their life-or-death situation that day: