The Family on the Bridge
Last January, Kelli Groves, 36, settled in to drive the final stretch of a four-hour road trip from her home in San Juan Capistrano, California, to Mission San Luis Obispo. In the backseat, her daughter Sage, ten, huddled under a blanket to watch a movie on her mom’s laptop; infant daughter, Mylo, dozed in a car seat.
Suddenly, as Groves was crossing a bridge on Highway 101, a semitruck attempted to cut in front of her BMW but slammed into its passenger side, instantly pinning the sedan to the guardrail. The truck careened off the bridge and exploded in a ravine 100 feet below, killing the driver.
Groves’s BMW dangled halfway off the bridge. “I thought that within a few seconds, we were going over,” says Groves.
Santa Barbara County firefighters arrived on the scene and tried to stabilize the car with ropes and a tow truck cable, but still the BMW teetered ominously as they sawed it apart to free the family. One firefighter shouted, “We need to stop cutting. We’re losing the car!”
Inside the vehicle, the older girl appeared to be in shock, mumbling, “Help, help.” Groves couldn’t see either child. She reached for the baby, and her hand came back bloody. “I kept tapping her to make her cry, to make sure she was still alive,” Groves says.
Meanwhile, the firefighters had managed to extricate Sage. “We had to [pull] her out first to have room to get to Kelli and the baby,” says firefighter Greg Nuckols.
At the same time, a group of Seabees from a Navy construction battalion pulled up, towing a large forklift. They could see the BMW wobbling at the edge of the bridge and determined that the forklift, which was capable of holding 11,000 pounds, could support the car while rescuers worked their way inside.
With the fire department’s consent, PO 1st Class Frankie Cruz maneuvered the forklift to the vehicle and held it in place. While the forklift cradled the car, rescuers used the jaws of life to slice through the BMW’s mangled roof and pull out Groves and Mylo.
The three victims were rushed to a nearby hospital. Groves suffered a broken pelvis, and Sage had multiple wounds and broken bones. Mylo had emerged with just a few cuts. “That’s impossible!” Groves said with astonishment when she heard the news. Even now, a year after the accident, Groves says the amazing series of events “still baffles me.”
More Luck: “We saw him robbing our house from the plane!” »
A View to a Heist
Returning from a week at his North Carolina vacation home, David Zehntner, 56, eased his Cessna 182 into a slow circle over his sprawling 40-acre ranch in LaBelle, Florida, preparing to land with his wife, Berna, by his side.
As the plane buzzed over their house, Berna peered out the window. “Honey, there’s a truck in our driveway,” she said into her headset. Then they watched a stranger walk up to their front door.
Zehntner made a second pass. The man was now walking around the house, peeking in windows. At one point, he looked up at the low-flying Cessna. Back at the driveway, he quickly hooked the Zehntners’ $1,200 trailer to his silver truck and took off down the road. “I can’t believe he’s actually doing this right in front of us,” Zehntner cried.
Determined to catch the thief, Zehntner tracked the truck as it rattled through the small town of LaBelle and then headed west toward Fort Myers. Then he landed at the LaBelle airport, jumped out of the plane, and called 911.
After his detailed description, local police were able to apprehend the suspect—and the stolen trailer—in about half an hour. The thief is awaiting trial.
Zehntner still can’t believe he witnessed the whole thing by air. “The odds of something like this happening are so astronomical,” he says. “The police wanted me to buy them a lottery ticket.”
More Luck: “Had we shown up 30 seconds later, he would have died” »
Saved from a Sinking Car
Hunter Haire, 19, and five friends, all home from college last January, piled into Haire’s SUV around 10 p.m., headed for a party near their former Lake Mary, Florida, high school. Though they’d driven the streets often, the group couldn’t find the house, and Haire’s iPhone GPS wasn’t working.
Frustrated, he pulled into a parking spot facing a small lake to see if his SUV’s GPS could help. Before Haire could enter the address of their destination, Haire’s friend Zac Sawin, 19, glanced up from the backseat and saw a pair of lights glowing eerily from the water about 50 yards from shore. “There’s a car in the water!” he cried.
In the darkness, the boys could barely make out the silhouette of the driver through the window. “We thought, We’ve got to get this guy out of there now, or he’s going to die,” says Haire.
He and Sawin, both athletes, dashed into the frigid water and swam hard to the sinking Mazda. Inside, Miguel Hernandez, 23, was clutching the steering wheel and staring straight ahead in shock.
Haire reached the car first and convinced Hernandez to roll down the passenger-side window. Haire climbed inside and wrestled with Hernandez’s seat belt. Then water began pouring into the car, causing it to slip toward the bottom of the 15-foot-deep lake.
Haire crawled out the open window, and then he and Sawin yanked Hernandez out of the car and pulled him back to the shore as the sedan sank completely into the blackness below.
“The series of events that led us there were the craziest coincidences ever,” says Haire. “We left my friend’s house at a certain time, didn’t have to stop at any red lights, got lost.” Sawin agrees: “If we had showed up 30 seconds later, he probably would have been dead.”
More Luck: “My long-lost wedding ring turned up in my garden” »
Diamond in the Dirt
In October 2011, while tending her garden in rural Mora, Sweden, Lena Påhlsson was about to toss a handful of stunted carrots onto the compost heap. But something made her look closer, and she noticed a shiny object. Yes, there beneath the leafy top of one tiny carrot was her long-lost wedding ring.
Påhlsson screamed so loudly that her daughter came running from the house. “She thought I had hurt myself,” says Påhlsson.
Sixteen years earlier, Påhlsson had removed the white-gold, diamond-encrusted wedding band to knead dough. When she went to put the ring back on later, it was gone. She suspected that one of her three daughters—then ten, eight, and six—had picked it up, but the girls denied it. Påhlsson and her husband, Ola, scoured the kitchen, even checking the gaps between the kitchen cabinets, but turned up nothing.
Påhlsson had hoped that the ring, which she had designed for her 1984 wedding ceremony, might appear during a kitchen renovation 11 years after it went missing. But, nothing. “I gave up hope of finding my ring again,” she says. She never replaced it.
Påhlsson and her husband now speculate that the ring got swept into a pile of kitchen scraps and was spread over the garden as compost, where it remained until the carrot’s leafy top fortuitously sprouted through the band. For Påhlsson, it was the ultimate garden bounty.
More Luck: “Off-duty lifeguards happened to be near the drowning man” »
The Surfer and the Lifeguards
Paddling out to catch the next wave at a competition in Christchurch, New Zealand, James Tuhikarama had a heart attack, which knocked him off his surfboard. He inhaled water, lost consciousness, and was soon floating facedown in the ocean. For a few moments, no one noticed as he drifted away from the main competition area.
About that time, Hira Edmonds, 25, a lifeguard and a senior instructor for a surf-safety company, was teaching 14 other lifeguards the finer points of emergency rescue on the second floor of a building overlooking New Brighton beach.
Edmonds had watched dozens of surfers ride the waves that day. As he glanced out the window, he saw someone in a wet suit facedown and motionless in the water. “It doesn’t take much to realize someone’s in trouble,” says Edmonds. “Lifeguards are never really off duty.” Edmonds rallied the team, grabbed first aid equipment, and rushed down to the water.
The lifeguards dragged Tuhikarama, 47 and a father of two, to the beach. More than a dozen rescuers took turns pumping oxygen and performing chest compressions on the unresponsive surfer.
For nearly an hour—far longer than a single lifeguard would have been able to continue the lifesaving technique—the team continued CPR. An ambulance finally arrived and took Tuhikarama to the hospital, where he spent a week in intensive care in a medically induced coma while his brain and heart healed.
A month after his release, Tuhikarama reunited with six of the teenage lifeguards who saved him. “[Being spotted by a group of lifeguards] was the only thing that saved me,” he says. “I’ve been given a second chance.”
More Luck: “Our runaway dog was scheduled for euthanasia the same day we found him via Facebook” »
A Case of Canine Kismet
During Hurricane Sandy last year, the garage and basement of Christine O’Donovan’s house in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, New York, were flooded, and two cars, years of paperwork, and photos were destroyed. Still, she counted her blessings: Her husband, five children (ages 2 to 12), and an adopted shepherd–ridgeback mix named Buster had remained safe.
Six months earlier, she’d taken Buster home after finding the scrawny six-month-old mutt left tied to a telephone pole.
Just a month later, however, as construction workers repaired the house, Buster dashed through the open front gate and ran off. “I was devastated,” O’Donovan says. A string of neighborhood searches for him turned up no sign.
Weeks later, O’Donovan got a text from a friend, telling her to look at a Facebook page that lists animals scheduled to be euthanized at New York City shelters the next day.
Sure enough, when O’Donovan logged on to the site, there was a picture of Buster, who was apparently slated to be put to sleep eight hours later, at 6 a.m. The shelter was closed for the night and wouldn’t open again to the public until 8 a.m.
“I’m thinking, How am I going to get him before they do this?” says O’Donovan.
The next morning, she drove to the shelter with all five kids in tow. She asked the woman at the front desk if Buster was still there. When the woman replied yes, “it was like a thousand pounds lifted off my shoulders,” she says.
To prove her ownership, O’Donovan told the assistant, “Bring me to the back where he is, and you will see he’s my dog.” When Buster spotted his long-lost owner, he went wild, barking, jumping, and licking O’Donovan’s face. She burst into tears. The shelter worker needed nothing more—and Buster went home.
More Luck: “My birth mother was there the whole time” »
A Remarkable Reunion
Steve Flaig of Grand Rapids, Michigan, knew he’d been adopted as a baby, and when he turned 18, in 2003, he decided he’d try to track down his birth mother. The agency from which he’d been adopted gave him his mother’s name: Christine Tallady. But online searches didn’t turn up any results, and Flaig let it go.
In 2007, though, he searched for the name again online. This time, the search results included a home address near the Lowe’s store where Flaig, then 22, worked as a deliveryman.
When he mentioned the coincidence to his boss, his boss said, “You mean Chris Tallady, who works here?”
Flaig and Tallady, 45, a cashier, had said hi to each other a few times at the store, but they’d never really talked. He hadn’t even known her name. Flaig thought, There’s no possible way she’s my mother.
For a few months, Flaig avoided Tallady. “I wasn’t sure how to approach her,” he told a local reporter. Finally, an adoption-agency employee volunteered to call Tallady for him.
When Tallady realized that the nice guy she’d been waving at was her son, she sobbed. She’d always hoped to meet her birth son one day. Later that day, mother and son talked for almost three hours at a nearby bar. She’d given him up for adoption in 1985, when she was 23. “I wasn’t ready to be a mother,” she told him.
Married with two other children, Tallady says, “I have a complete family now.”
More Luck: “Wouldn’t it be lucky if both my lottery tickets were winners?” »
Twice the Payday
When Virginia Fike, 44, plays the lottery, she always picks the same numbers: her parents’ anniversary date and ages, divided by the year they were married.
So when the Powerball jackpot reached $80 million in April 2012, she drove to a truck stop near her home in Berryville, Virginia, to buy a ticket. She’d planned to get only one, but because of a mix-up at the register, she played the numbers on two tickets.
Fike was visiting her mother in the hospital when she saw on TV that two tickets in Virginia had hit five of the six Powerball numbers. Each one was worth $1 million.
Fike looked at her mom and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny …” And it was—after she double-checked the numbers at a convenience store, which verified that she was indeed the double winner. Fike received a total of $1.4 million after taxes. “I must be dreaming,” she told a local newspaper reporter. “I look forward to helping take care of my parents and paying some bills.”
More Luck: “The unluckiest woman in the world?” »
The Unluckiest Woman in the World?
Ann Hodges was snuggled under a blanket on her couch in Sylacauga, Alabama, one afternoon in November 1954, when a grapefruit-size meteorite burst through the roof of her house, bounced off a radio, and struck her left hip. She is thought to be the first person in modern history to be hit by a meteorite. “I think God intended it for me,” Hodges, then 31, said.
Trailed by a fireball big enough to be seen in three states, the space rock was traveling between 200 and 400 mph, according to scientists, when it reached her. Hodges was badly bruised but didn’t sustain any serious injuries.
Hodges died of unrelated causes in 1972. The offending rock is on permanent display at the Alabama Museum of Natural History.