For 55 hours, Cindy Braddock and Jake Day’s children faced extreme temperatures, isolation and dwindling food supplies before they were discovered by emergency services.
Save for the shell of the crashed Land Rover, they had no shelter from the elements as emergency services scrambled to find the family’s crashed vehicle in the remote eastern Wheatbelt region of Western Australia.
Somehow, the couple’s eldest daughter managed to get one of her siblings out of his car seat after she became unstuck, waiting days before help came.
At only five years old, she saved the lives of her baby brothers – who are just one and two.
All three children are now in the safe hands of WA’s hospital staff and are expected to be released this week.
But Ms Braddock, 25, and Mr Day, 28, met with the ultimate, tragic fate.
The three children were discovered in the rolled Land Rover Discovery just before midday on December 28. Picture: Supplied.
The pair were killed after their maroon Land Rover Discovery crashed on Corrigin-Kondinin Road near Sykes Road, in the early hours of Christmas Day.
The wreckage and the now-orphaned children were only discovered two days later around 11.50am.
An urgent alert was issued on Tuesday more than 48 hours after Ms Braddock and Mr Day were last seen leaving Northam – about 95km east of Perth.
They’d left about 1am on Christmas Day, driving home to Kondinin – a town of slightly more than 300 people – to visit family on Christmas.
“It’s believed the pair were travelling towards Kondinin and are with their three children, all under the age of five,” WA Police said in a text message to residents in the area.
“Anyone with information is asked to contact police immediately”.
WA Police released photos of Jake Day on December 28 saying they had ‘urgent” welfare concerns. Picture: WA Police.WA Police released photos of Cindy Braddock on December 28 saying they had ‘urgent” welfare concerns. Picture: WA Police. Picture: WA Police.
Family members had taken to social media the day prior, venting concerns and pleading for anyone to come forward if they’d spoken to or seen the young family.
“They left Northam to go home to Kondinin but haven’t made it home and haven’t made contact with anybody since,” Ms Braddock’s sister wrote on Facebook on Boxing Day morning.
“Please contact Northam police or me if you have seen them or car (sic).”
Some family members living in Kondinin and Northam had taken it upon themselves to begin driving the roads they might have taken.
Ultimately, it was close family friends from Northam who discovered the horrific scene and raised the alarm.
Their car was discovered a short distance off Corrigin-Kondinin Road, having flipped onto its roof after hitting an embankment a few short kilometres from their destination.
Ms Braddock and Mr Day tragically died in the crash.
The overturned car was discovered less than 10km from Kondinin. Picture: 7 NEWS.
Michael Read, Mr Day’s cousin, told reporters it was unimaginable the children had been able to care for themselves.
“They were stuck in the car for 55 hours in 30C heat,” he said outside Perth Children’s Hospital.
“It would have been hard … Nobody knows what they went through.”
He said the children were recovering well and should be out of the hospital soon, but added the family was “taking one day at a time”.
Photos from the scene revealed toys and clothes strewn throughout the bushland where the car came to rest.
Snacks bought just hours earlier and a half-finished baby bottle provide clues to how they were able to keep going.
Mr Read said he believed the family had left early so they could spend Christmas morning with Mr Day’s mother.
He believes it was the five-year-old’s instincts that kept her and her brothers alive.
“What I‘ve gathered is the five-year-old became unstuck in the vehicle, and she then got the one-year-old out of the car seat,” he said.
“If it wasn’t for the five-year-old … he wouldn’t be with us today.”
Cindy Braddock and Jake Day in a recent photo with their three children. Picture: Facebook.
A GoFundMe set up after the discovery by friends Casey Guyer and Kailee Wallace, has raised more than $75,000 in two days to support the children and cover funeral costs.
“Devastatingly Jake and Cindy did not survive the accident but an angel was looking over the kids as it was a miracle their beautiful babies survived,” they wrote.
How the crash occurred is still unclear, but WA Police Inspector Tony Vuleta said investigators were examining the events leading up to the “tragic” incident.
“An incident of this type is tragic, especially at this time of year,” he said.
“Our thoughts are with Cindy and Jake’s family at this time.”
Driving in regional Western Australia is well-known to be dangerous – despite only holding one-fifth of the state’s residents – most years lives lost on roads regionally far eclipses metropolitan Perth.
This year, almost two-thirds of Western Australia’s road deaths occurred out of the capital city.
Family members say they’re shattered by the deaths of Cindy Braddock and Jake Day. Picture: Facebook.
WA Police suspect fatigue is a factor in around 20 road deaths statewide annually, with 21 per cent of regional deaths between 2012 and 2016 attributable to tired driving.
Northam petrol station employee Nathan O’Donnell was one of the last people to see the young parents alive.
He told ABC Perth an “exhausted” Mr Day stopped at the servo at 1.11am.
“I told him good luck with the long drive,” Mr O’Donnell said.
“Unfortunately, he never made it.”
Investigators are now appealing for dashcam footage or anyone with information to come forward, with questions abounding about what happened in the fateful hours before the tragic discovery.