As the car started to fishtail on the slippery road, Ashley Holland was praying they wouldn’t end up in the water.
As the New York Post reports, the 24-year-old mom from Hansport, Nova Scotia, was headed to a birthday party on Sunday with her 4-year-old daughter, Macy. The weather had been bad, and Ashley’s car hit a patch of ice just as she pulled off the highway onto a local road.
Immediately, the car began to slide and then fishtail as it headed for an embankment. Beyond that was a pond full of icy water. Ashley told the Star Halifax that she remembers the terrifying moment when she lost control of her car:
“I’ve never been in a car accident before, ever, so I was just thinking, ‘Oh, my God, the water is right there,’ and I was just like literally praying, ‘Do not go in the water.’ But then we hit the water, so my only concern was just to get her out of the vehicle.”
As the car slid into the pond, it flipped over, leaving both Ashley and her daughter belted in but hanging upside down. The windows broke, and the car began to sink in the cold water.
Ashley reached for her buckle and managed to undo it. She then crawled out through the broken window and made her way to the rear door.
At first, it seemed that she might be in luck. The car rolled again, this time onto the driver’s side door. This left the rear door by Ashley’s daughter exposed. Ashley tried to pull it open so she could help her daughter, but the cold water kept defeating her. She told CBC News:
“I finally did get it open, but I had slush and ice all over my hands and everywhere, and my hand slipped and the door slammed shut. So I’m freaking out trying to think, what do I do?”
Giving up on the door, Ashley crawled back into the car through the passenger’s side window. She strained to unfasten Macy’s car seat harness. Meanwhile, her daughter was too frightened to do anything but cry. Ashley told the Star:
“She was screaming, she kept saying, ‘Mom, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die,’ and it was horrible.”
Finally, Ashley was able to unbuckle Macy and pull her out through the window. Doing her best to keep her daughter’s head out of the water, Ashley made her way back to the bank, which was about 25 feet away.
“I think it took me maybe less than five minutes, but of course at the time it felt like two hours,” she later told the Star. “It was kind of a race to get her out.”
The mom got help from a passing motorist who let them into his car to warm up. A passing firetruck saw the roof of Ashley’s car in the water and stopped to help, giving Ashley and Macy dry clothing to wear and a teddy bear that helped calm the frightened young girl.
Brooklyn Fire Captain Ryan Richard told CTV News he was stunned to see Ashley and Macy survive the crash:
“I’m not a spiritual person. But there was definitely someone there with them yesterday. I can tell you after 26 years of experience, I’ve been through a lot of these calls and quite frankly they turn into fatalities; it was definitely a miracle.”
Ashley’s aware that she and her daughter were lucky. The mom suffered a few cuts and bruises, but Macy was unhurt. She says she is very thankful for the firefighters and the good Samaritan who stopped to help them, especially because she knows these stories usually end tragically.
She also explained to the Star what made it possible for her to save her daughter under such extreme circumstances:
“I literally would have drowned before I let her stay in that car. Your mom instincts just come out, like it was crazy, the adrenaline.”
Getting trapped in a sinking car is a nightmare scenario, but Ashley had the presence of mind to act quickly and prioritize getting out of the car. According to Popular Mechanics, it’s possible to escape if your car goes into a body of water, but it’s critical to act quickly. That means spending those vital first seconds getting out of the car. Save the 911 call for after you’ve escaped the vehicle.
In its guide to surviving a water crash, Popular Mechanics recommends unbuckling immediately, then rolling the windows down (or breaking them as necessary). Don’t open the door, and don’t hesitate. You need to take advantage of the 30 seconds to one minute you have before the water level reaches the bottom of the windows.
Help children escape first, sending everyone out their own window if possible. You may have to help older children get through the window and then take the youngest out in your arms. Then get out by swimming out of the open window as quickly as possible.