Lumberton, N.C. — A Columbus County woman who mistakenly drove her SUV into a pond near Lumberton last week said Monday that she prayed and sang to pass the time until someone finally heard her cries for help.
Margaret Simmons, 84, traveled from her home in Evergreen last Wednesday to Lumberton to deliver a birthday cake to her brother-in-law. On her way home, she found herself on a dead-end road after checking out a rural paving project near Interstate 74, and when she tried to turn around, her Jeep Cherokee ended up in a pond.
"I was frightened when I saw where I was going because I didn't know there was a pond there," Simmons said. "I went off (the road) and went that way, and I said, 'Oh my God.'"
She frantically tried to call her niece and then 911, but the water was already chest high and rising rapidly. So, she tossed the phone and gathered her strength to kick open the driver's door.
"I was just hollering, telling him, 'Lord, I can't stay in here and drown now, Lord,'" she said. "He gave me the strength that I did not have."
Once she escaped the submerged vehicle, she scrambled onto its roof. There, Simmons stopping hollering at God and began yelling for help.
Hours passed, but no one could see her through the brush surrounding the pond.
"There was so much traffic, you had to wait in between because of the sound,” she said. "I'd cry a while, talk a while and sing 'How Great Thou Art.'"
When night fell, Simmons was still searching for help.
"The stars were shining so pretty on Wednesday night, and you could see the clouds moving past," she said. "I said, 'Lord, please don't send no rain. If you do, we'll go deeper down, and I won't be safe.'"
No rain came, but no rescue either.
On Thursday, she tried a little ingenuity to test how deep the water was in the pond.
"I took off my bra and tied it to the rail on the back and said, 'I'm going to hold on to that and slide off down onto the trailer hook,'" she said.
She couldn't reach the bottom of the pond, so she pulled herself back up and spent a second day on top of her Jeep under a scorching sun. She even used her shoes to scoop water out of the pond to try to cool the roof down.
"I blistered my butt end sitting up there," she said with a laugh. "It was a miserable time."
A couple who live nearby finally heard Simmons screaming for help at about 8 p.m. Thursday – more than 30 hours after she drove into the pond.
A helicopter circled overhead a short time later, and Simmons said she thought it was going to pluck her off the Jeep. Then, a rescue crew came on the ground with a tow rope.
"I said, 'Sir, are you going to hook that to this car and pull it out while I'm still on top of it?'" she said, adding that her rescuers began to laugh. "I thought he was going to roll over in that water when I said that."
Sunburned, dehydrated with suffering from badly pulled muscles from clambering over her car, she was finally back on dry land.
“I just said, 'Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord.' What a wonderful Lord we have that he watched over me," she said.
Simmons said the only thing that scared her during the ordeal was a large creature that circled her Jeep in the pond. She said she doesn't know if it was an eel, a large catfish or something else.
When her children asked her why she wasn't scared to spend the night alone outside, she said she wasn't really by herself.
"I had God right here with me," she said.