As Sgt. Dave Wander's patrol truck rolled along the dirt shoulder of a rural highway, he spotted a wrecked green sedan entangled in a tree, its windows pierced by branches.
The officer parked his truck and climbed 20 feet down an embankment, thinking that whoever was in that car probably hadn't survived.
Wander saw a woman's body, but as he got closer, he saw something that stunned him: a dark-haired little girl emerging from under a blanket.
Three-year-old Angel Emery-Wade _ damp and shivering with a small bump over her right eye _ was curled up next to her mother, who is believed to have died on impact five days earlier.
"The little girl was chattering away looking up out the window toward me," Wander said during a media briefing after the Jan. 26 rescue. "She came right to me. She was very, very friendly."
Angel was thirsty and cold but escaped serious injury, even though the temperature in Globe, about 80 miles east of Phoenix, had dipped to 28 degrees and rain fell through the shattered windows.
The girl apparently had crackers to eat, and authorities found an empty water bottle in the back seat.
Police said Angel was suffering from frostbite when she was flown to Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, but hospital officials said she was released two days later without losing any fingers or toes.
The girl's ordeal began Jan. 21 when she and her mother, Patty Marie Wade, 44, embarked midday on a road trip from their Phoenix home to visit relatives in Show Low, about 170 miles away.
The car spun off the road, hit a large tree and stopped just over a small dry creek bed, according to Department of Public Safety Officer Tom Gamboa. Tree branches broke through the windows, obscuring the wreckage.
Patty Wade's family had driven the route after the disappearance looking for her car, but came up empty.
Only a tall truck and a perfectly timed glance out the side window led to discovery of the wreckage by an anonymous driver, who notified police.
Had it not been for that driver, "we wouldn't have found her, or well, eventually we would have. But it may have been too late," Gamboa said. "She broke every odd possible, I'm telling you."
Angel was likely lying down on the seat behind her mother at the time of the crash, which probably saved her life, Gamboa said.
"If she would have been in the child restraint seat, she would have been hurt. In 18 years of doing this, that's the first time I could say that," he said.
After Wander plucked Angel from the mangled sedan, she sat in his patrol truck shivering and drinking water from a thermos, he said.
She said something about water and the bump on her head and was able to give Wander her mother's name.
She seemed most interested in getting more water. Every time she finished a cupful, she pointed and asked for more.
When nurse Bryan Ross came to take her aboard a Native Air medical helicopter, she was willing to go but resisted giving up the cup. "No, no, I want water," Ross recalls her saying.
Reassured that she would get more water and food, she boarded the helicopter wide-eyed and talkative, with Ross' jacket over her light animal-print pajama top and purple pajama bottoms. She had no shoes on, and she was still shivering.
Halfway through the 50-minute ride to the hospital with the heat cranked and thermal packs under her arms, she fell asleep.
Angel's relatives have declined interviews but released a statement calling her "our miracle baby."
"Angel's recovery is great. She is walking, talking and being the wonderful child that she is," said Angel's aunt, Linda Emery. "Our goal now is to put her first, shower her with love and bring normalcy to this tragic situation."