By Jonathan Kaminsky
(Reuters) - A family that spent two nights huddled in Nevada's frigid backcountry after crashing their Jeep during an outing to play in the snow tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of rescuers flying overhead by setting fires, they said on Monday.
James Glanton told NBC's Today Show that during his family's ordeal this month he twice saw small planes overhead, but the fires he lit using the overturned vehicle's spare tire and nearby vegetation failed to attract the rescuers' notice.
"I had a lot of white smoke, but it was surrounded by snowy mountains which made it kind of difficult to see, I guess," said Glanton, 34.
Glanton and his girlfriend, Christina McIntee, 25, had taken their two young children and McIntee's niece and nephew on a trip to an abandoned mining camp in the Seven Troughs range in northwestern Nevada when they hit a patch of ice and their Jeep overturned, Glanton said.
"It was a really slow-motion rollover," Glanton said. "It didn't even shatter the window."
When the group failed to return home on the evening of December 8, a wide-scale rescue operation was launched, backed by helicopters and airplanes. Fears grew for the group's fate, with unseasonably cold temperatures plunging to minus 21 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 Celsius) overnight.
Stranded in the wilderness and equipped with matches, lighters and magnesium fire starter, along with a limited supply of food and water, the group elected to remain together with the children and the vehicle, Glanton said.
"We figured our best chance was with the Jeep because it was the most visible rather than just a single person walking out in the wilderness," Glanton said.
Last Tuesday, a volunteer rescuer using binoculars spotted the couple's vehicle in a gravel pit about 17 miles from the town of Lovelock. Rescuers credited the group's survival in large part to the family hunkering down together instead of setting out in search of help.
McIntee said that the children, identified by authorities as Shelby Schlag-Fitzpatrick, 10, Tate McIntee, 4, and Evan and Chloe Glanton, aged 5 and 3, had remained calm during the ordeal and were "awesome."
But McIntee said she grew fearful on the second day in the wintry wilderness as the group's food supplies dwindled.
"I don't think we would have lasted another two days," she said.
Asked whether it was wise to drive into the rugged and snowy Nevada backcountry, Glanton explained that the outdoors were a primary source of recreation for the couple and the children.
"We don't have anything in the way of entertainment besides the hills," he said. "That's what we do. That's where we live."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)