INDIANAPOLIS - Tim Rutledge's life was saved by his persistent wife and the voice dial feature of his cellphone during a winter storm that slammed Indiana with a foot of snow and wind chills of -40.
Rutledge, a trucker from Orlando, Fla., was trapped under his truck for up to six hours as temperatures tumbled below zero and the wind howled.
Rutledge's harrowing story began Sunday evening. He was hauling a load bound for Plainfield as the storm raged and had stopped at a Pilot Travel Center about 30 miles from his destination, prepared to deliver a load Monday morning.
When Rutledge tried to pull out of the truck stop Monday, he found that the brakes had frozen. He went under the truck to break the ice loose, thinking the truck had settled overnight and would be safe.
"While I was under there, I noticed it starting to move a little bit," he said.
Rutledge tried to get out from under the truck, but it sank faster than he could move and pinned his arm and left side. There were other trucks parked near him, but they were running, and other drivers were unable to hear his cries for help.
Rutledge tried in vain to free himself, becoming weaker and more desperate as the hours passed.
"In my mind, I was thinking, 'This can't be it,'" he said. "Eventually, I was so tired and so froze and I was so hoarse from yelling, and the wind started picking up and the temperature dropped even more."
Rutledge faithfully calls his wife and his employer every morning. When he didn't call Monday, both knew something was wrong and began calling his cellphone.
With his phone stuck in his coat pocket, Rutledge was unable to answer, but the incessant calls were helping.
"My phone is set up to ring and vibrate every time I get a call. As it was vibrating … it would move," he said. "It kept moving, and eventually got far enough out that it slid down, and luckily it slid forward in front of me instead of behind me."
Rutledge was then able to use the voice call feature of his phone to summon help. He wasn't sure who he had called, but it was his boss, who was able to determine where he was and contacted authorities.
By the time emergency workers arrived, Rutledge was drifting in and out of consciousness, and tears from a watering eye had frozen the eye shut.
"I remember hearing people talking, but I couldn't open my eyes. I wasn't sure if that meant I was still alive or what," he said.
After a few days in an Indianapolis hospital for treatment of hypothermia and sore ribs, Rutledge was released Thursday and is headed back to Florida.
"I feel extremely lucky. I feel there was another hand in this that I can't explain," he said. "The doctors and the nursing staff were telling me, 'It's a miracle you're alive, as long as you were out there.'"
Rutledge choked back tears when asked about being reunited with his wife.
"I never thought I would see her again," he said. "She saved me."