Shanelle Bates said she believes angels are looking over her.
She and her husband, Matthew Kunowski, are recovering from injuries sustained when their Jeep skidded off a Tonto National Forest road and rolled 80 feet down a cliff.
“When I started to see us fall, I knew we were done. I knew we were going to die,” said Bates, who lives in Glendale.
“It’s really given me a different perspective on life because we shouldn’t have made it out of that.”
Bates and Kunowski were driving back to their cabin after picking up groceries from a Walmart in Payson. Kunowski “looked away for a split second,” causing the vehicle to plunge down a dark slope.
“After we had rolled over, we had to climb back up 80 feet just to get to the road,” she said. “I got up there first, and I told him, ‘Follow my voice and get up here.’ He wasn’t able to, and I told him, ‘Find that inner strength and get up here.’ I wasn’t going to leave him here. I wasn’t going to do this alone. He finally ended up getting up there with me.”
Bates said she and her husband held onto each other and started to walk. In those moments, she wasn’t thinking of anything else but getting Kunowski to safety.
“I knew he was in bad shape, but I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t see. It was literally pitch black out there. I told him, ‘We’re just going to walk until we can’t walk anymore.’”
Two hours later, they were found and airlifted to a Scottsdale hospital. Bates suffered a broken right collarbone and a 5-inch laceration on her left arm that will require surgery. She was discharged two days after the accident.
Kunowski, who as of July 3 was out of the intensive care unit, “shattered his chin, broke both sides of his jaw, cracked each side of his cheek bones, broke his C7 (vertebra) and multiple ribs,” Bates said.
Bates anticipates she and her husband, who have five children at home, will not be able to work for a while. “I will definitely be out six to eight weeks. He’s going to be out probably three, four months. It’s just going to be a long recovery,” she said.
Nonetheless, Bates feels blessed.
“I am just really, really grateful. I feel there were angels or someone looking after us because it’s an experience I don’t think I could’ve ever really done,” Bates said.
“I really want to thank the team who helped us when they were rescuing us because if it wasn’t for them, and that guy in the cabin, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
A GoFundMe page was set up to support Bates and her family. To make a donation, please visit gofundme.com/f/rolled-78-feet-down-a-cliff.