CNN  — 

The two men had gone out the day after Christmas, scouting for fishing holes at a creek in northwest Indiana, when something shiny in the distance caught their attention.

Mario Garcia and his son-in-law Nivardo Delatorre had been ready to call it a day. But curiosity took hold. They went to check it out.

Closer and closer they walked Tuesday toward the shiny thing, there under the Interstate 94 bridge, Garcia later would recall. Then, it finally took shape:

A mangled truck.

The fishermen got even closer – right up to the driver’s door, the father-in-law said. Sticking his hand inside the cabin, Garcia moved an airbag out of the way to reveal something he and Delatorre hadn’t been able to see at all from back at Salt Creek: somebody in the driver’s seat.

The person, Garcia assumed, was dead.

Then, he touched the man’s shoulder.

“He swung around,” Garcia said. “He woke up.”

Startled, Garcia asked his son-in-law to dial for help.

Soon, the pair of fishermen would be part of a rescue mission nearly a week in the making. It was something the pinned driver had begun to think nearly impossible – and an effort destined to be described in the end by one veteran public servant with a watchword of this magical season: “miracle.”

‘Nothing short of extraordinary’

The man in the crushed truck – Matthew R. Reum, 27, of Mishawaka – told the fishermen he had been trapped there, tightly pinned in his seat under the bridge near Portage, since the prior Wednesday, December 20, Garcia recalled later at a news conference held by state police.

But Reum – a welder and a “very good asset to his trade,” his union colleague later would say – couldn’t budge enough within the morphed vehicle to reach his phone.

“He tried yelling and screaming, but nobody would hear him,” Garcia recalled the man telling him. “It was just quiet – just the sound of the water.”

Though all alone and locked in place, the driver managed to survive the six-day ordeal in part by drinking rainwater, state police said in a news release.

“The will to survive this crash was nothing short of extraordinary,” police said.

Temperatures in Porter County had reached a low of 29 degrees Fahrenheit in recent days.

“It’s a miracle that he’s alive in this weather,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said at the news conference, adding Reum might have been stuck for a week and suffered some “severe, potentially life-threatening injuries.”

Still, by the time Garcia and Delatorre found him, Reum “had almost lost all hope because nobody was there,” Garcia said the driver told him.

While they waited for professional rescuers, Reum thanked the men repeatedly, Garcia recalled: “He was alive and he was very happy to see us.”

“I’ve never seen relief like that.”

Indiana State Police
Rescuers help free a man trapped for nearly a week in mangled truck.

When the emergency crews arrived, it was difficult even to get equipment to the wreckage site, Fifield said. And I-94’s westbound lanes at mile marker 20 had to be closed Tuesday afternoon as crews worked to free the driver and get him to a helicopter.

Hours later, Reum finally got to a hospital, police said.

Surgeries may dot the road to recovery

The freed welder has “always been a positive, kind and energetic person,” Boilermakers Local 374’s Brad Sievers told CNN in a statement.

Now, though, he has broken bones and injuries to his legs that could require surgeries, according to Reum’s union local of eight years and a GoFundMe account started to help with his medical bills and recovery.

He was in critical condition Wednesday morning at Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Beacon Health System said in a statement.

A statement released on behalf of Reum said he “wants to thank everyone for the outpouring of support and all the well wishes, including the good Samaritans who found him, the first responders and his caregivers at Memorial Hospital.”

Reum has asked “not only for time to process everything that he has endured since last Wednesday, but also for time to rest and heal. Matt knows he has a story to tell, and when he is ready, he plans to share details of that experience,” according to the statement.

“No matter how tough things get, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes in the least expected way,” Reum said.

From Haley Traxler
Matt Reum has several broken bones and is grateful for the two fishermen who found him, according to his labor union.

It’s also still not clear what caused the crash.

It appears the truck ran off I-94, missed the guardrail, went airborne, rolled down into the creek and came to rest under the bridge.

But police got no reports of a crash, they said, and even if they had, the wreckage couldn’t be seen from the bridge.

“I looked over that bridge, and you can’t see it,” Fifield said. “I walked down on the east side of the terrain, and I am looking and I still couldn’t see it.”

‘I don’t believe he would’ve made it’

Had the fishermen not found him when they did, Reum may not have made it, Fifield said.

“It’s cold tonight,” the sergeant said Tuesday. “I don’t believe he would’ve made it through the night tonight, that’s my personal opinion.”

Meanwhile, Reum is “alive and grateful for the men who found him,” said Sievers, Boilermakers Local 374’s business manager and secretary-treasurer.

“Matt’s strong will and toughness speak volumes through this ordeal,” he added. “We will continue to pray and support our brother as he begins his recovery. We thank God that Matt is still with us.”

Mario Garcia, left, and his son-in-law Nivardo Delatorre found the man trapped in the mangled truck.

For their part, Garcia and his son-in-law felt fortunate for their curiosity, the elder said – the force that had pushed them toward the truck when they’d been ready to pack it in.

“Is it a miracle? I don’t know,” Garcia said. “But I’m just glad that that we were able to find him.”

CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Andy Rose, Taliah Miller and CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.