When Michael Giovanetti regained consciousness, he was trapped upside down in his car with his face mashed against its broken windshield.
Help was only 100 feet away, back up the steep hill and onto the road he had tumbled off only moments before. But help, it turned out, would be many days away.Stuck in the twisted wreckage of his car, Giovanetti endured four days in sultry heat before managing to crawl out of the wreck and drag himself up the hill despite a head wound and broken ribs.
First, he unlatched his seat belt and fell against the steering wheel. "I don't remember it hurting. I remember it was very hot," he said. "It was very difficult uprighting myself."
Giovanetti spent his first day yelling and banging a piece of metal from the wreck against the body of the car to get the attention of passing motorists up the hill. Nobody noticed.
Raised Catholic, Giovanetti said he no longer goes to church, but he prayed mightily when he first woke up after the wreck and gave thanks whenever a cool breeze blew through his car during his ordeal.
"Everybody tells me I'm really lucky. I felt somebody else was helping me - like it was a team. Someone had a reason to let me go. I was in a bad way. Someone had to pull me out of there," Giovanetti said Friday.
Out of the hospital and recovering at his parents' home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Oakmont, Giovanetti still looks awful. An ugly purple bruise covers the right side of his face, frightening his 5-year-old twins, Chloe and Monique. But his worst injuries were cracked ribs and a cracked sternum.
Giovanett was returning from Virginia, where he had dropped off a friend before heading for home in Apalachin, N.Y. Unemployed since April, Giovanetti was hoping to continue his search for work as an avionics technician while his wife, Tricia, 9-year-old son, Nicholas, and the girls vacationed in North Carolina.
Giovanetti, 39, lost control on a patch of gravel Aug. 11 while trying to get onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, shooting across the pavement and over a guard rail. His car launched into the air and landed about 100 feet down a steep, boulder-strewn hill, police said.
The accident tore the front off Giovanetti's car, which came to rest on its crushed roof. The car's passenger side was buried in dirt and rocks.
Bathed in gasoline fumes and suffering from a banged-up head, Giovanetti suffered nightmares during the ordeal including a dream in which a police officer waved off an ambulance, saying he didn't need help.
He spent a second day in a failed effort to wiggle out of the mangled wreck, exhausting himself. On the third day, Giovanetti dragged himself halfway out of the wreckage, where he rigged a rubber mat to direct rainwater into plastic water bottles. It provided the only water he'd get until his rescue.
By the morning of the fourth day, Giovanetti realized no one would come for him. Weakened, he dragged himself backward, crablike, up the steep hillside, gripping rocks in his fists to protect his hands from broken glass.
When he finally made it, Giovanetti was too weak to even pull himself over the guard rail. He lay on the side of the road, waving futilely at passing cars and trucks until good Samaritans in a beat-up sedan pulled over to help.
"It seemed mostly like a long, bad day. I didn't know it was four days until I got to the top," Giovanetti said. "I just kept trying to get out. I wanted to see my kids."