A 9-year-old boy whose mother died Thursday night after their van fell off a cliff northwest of Nogales was rescued by an illegal border crosser who stayed with him through the night.
The boy and his mother were riding in a green Chevy Astrovan along a narrow Forest Service road about 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving when she lost control of the vehicle, hit an embankment and fell over a cliff, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada.
The pair was traveling on Forest Service Road 39, about 6 miles west of Peña Blanca Lake in an area about 60 miles southwest of Tucson.
The names of the 45-year-old woman from Rimrock, a Yavapai County community between Phoenix and Flagstaff, and that of her son were not made public on Friday.
The man who stayed with the boy was voluntarily returned to Mexico.
In the crash, the van landed about 300 feet from the roadway. The mother was trapped inside.
The boy got out of the vehicle and wandered alone until he encountered Jesus Manuel Cordova, 26, of Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico, Estrada said. Cordova was walking north after illegally crossing into Arizona, he said.
He had seen the van traveling on the road two hours earlier, he told deputies.
Cordova told authorities the boy was disoriented, scared and lost, Estrada said.
The boy took Cordova to the crash scene. The pair tried, but were unable to free the woman, who was still alive at the time, Estrada said.
It’s unclear how the two communicated since the boy likely speaks only English and the man only Spanish, Estrada said.
They went back up the road to look for help but it got dark and cold.
So, Cordova consoled the boy, gave him a jacket, built a bonfire and stayed with him overnight.
A group of hunters came by about 8 a.m. Friday, and Cordova and the boy told them what had happened, Estrada said.
The hunters called for help and the Border Patrol was the first to arrive, he said. Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies arrived shortly afterward.
The boy was flown to University Medical Center for precautionary measures, Estrada said. Emergency workers found the woman dead in the van.
The boy is now an orphan; the husband of his mother died two months ago, Estrada said. The boy and his mother were in the Peña Blanca area camping.
“It’s very tragic not only for that but because it was Thanksgiving Day,” Estrada said.
Cordova turned himself in to agents when they arrived, said Richard DeWitt, Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesman. He probably made a conscious decision to help the boy and not worry about getting apprehended, he said.
“It shows a high degree of humanity from that guy to stay with that kid because that’s out in the middle of nowhere,” DeWitt said.
Estrada agreed: “These people take a knock from a lot of people and yet they are willing to sacrifice getting caught to help a kid,” Estrada said.
Both called the events an incredible story.
“It’s pretty amazing that this guy out there in the middle of nowhere comes upon this kid,” DeWitt said.
His actions probably saved the boy’s life, Estrada said.
“The little boy was very fortunate. We don’t know what would have happened to him in that area overnight.”