PARADISE, Calif. – A father and his three children who had been missing since heading into the mountains over the weekend to cut a Christmas tree were plucked Wednesday from a snowy ravine, providing a Christmas miracle just as another storm was bearing down. “I’m just amazed how well they did,” Lisa Sams said after seeing her children and ex-husband for the first time since they were found. “It was like butterflies in my stomach, like if you were going to go on a very-first date.” The four appeared to be in good shape as they bounded from a California Highway Patrol helicopter that made successive flights to bring them to safety. The father smiled as he stepped out of the chopper to cheers from family and friends, then was whisked to a nearby hospital with his children. The four left for the tree hunt Sunday but were not reported missing until late Monday. By then, a fierce storm had dumped more than a foot of snow in the mountains, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, and dropped temperatures into the 20s. “Our hearts are all full right now,” said Cory Stahl, who owns a pest-control business where the father works. “It’s a very merry Christmas now.” Clouds had prevented an aerial search until a brief lifting of them Wednesday afternoon allowed a CHP helicopter to join the effort. Flight officer David White said it was the last opportunity for the helicopter to land, with snow falling heavily as it descended. He said the four were wet and cold but otherwise seemed fine. They had survived wearing only jeans, sweat shirts and coats by huddling in a culvert beneath a bridge, sheltered from the outside by a makeshift wall of twigs and tree branches. Her younger children were pushed deepest into the shelter, with the father and eldest child blocking the wind, Sams recounted after visiting them at the hospital. She said they told of huddling together and telling jokes and singing to pass the time in the first couple of days, before beginning to grow scared and depressed in the last 24 hours. They had found water to drink and did not eat snow because their father remembered reading that it could cause hypothermia. Frederick also had taken off his shirt, torn up the fabric and wrapped it around his children’s feet, hoping to stave off frostbite. Sams said Alexis’ toes had grown black, but Frederick had kept rubbing them to try to keep them warm. Sams said color had begun to return to the girl’s toes in the hospital. The father and children – found less than a mile and a half from the road – said they had become confused by going from pine tree to pine tree, trying to find the perfect Christmas tree, before realizing they were lost. Sams said they told her they did not try to venture from the shelter because they knew she was a “worrywart” and would send a search crew. “I knew that they would pull together,” Sams said. “We’re a really close family.” The four were taken to Feather River Hospital in Paradise, where they were being checked for dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. Treating physician Kurt Bower said all four were doing well – walking, talking and drinking hot chocolate. Because Dominguez had custody of his children at the time, his ex-wife did not know they were missing until she discovered that her youngest child failed to show up at school Monday. Authorities were alerted at 8 p.m. Monday and immediately began a search.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champHope of finding the four alive seemed to dim as the week wore on and meteorologists warned of another storm sweeping into Northern California late Wednesday. Wind-driven snowdrifts reached 7 feet high in the heavily wooded, canyon-crossed foothill region where the family was trapped. “As each hour and day unfolds, you get less and less optimistic,” said Mike Lerch, principal of Paradise High School. “This is a big sense of relief to the community.” Frederick Dominguez, 38, and his children – Christopher, 18, Alexis, 15, and Joshua, 12 – had been missing some 25 miles northeast of Chico, in the mostly rural north-central region of the state. The break in the search came in midafternoon Wednesday when a California Highway Patrol helicopter spotted the father atop a small bridge and landed nearby, sinking into 2 feet of snow. The family also had used tree branches to write the word “Help” into the snow.