Two young boys who were buried alive under five feet of snow survived close to seven hours thanks to an air bubble that formed around them.

The cousins, aged 11 and 9, were reportedly building a snow fort in upstate New York when a snowplow drove by, collapsing the fort on top of them.

"We started screaming and telling him to stop," 11-year-old Elijah Martinez told CNN. "But he didn't hear us."

"They were probably in about 5 feet of snow," police Sgt. Aaron Weaver told CBS. "But however it fell, there was, like, a dome around their heads, so there was air in there, like space for them."

The boys tried to free themselves but were afraid of collapsing the ice around them, they told CBS.

"We motivated each other to not go to sleep, keep yelling, keep moving our bodies, trying to break out," Martinez said. "Cause I knew if we would've fallen asleep…we probably wouldn't have woke up because we would be so cold, frozen probably."

When the kids hadn't returned home by nightfall, their parents grew worried and called police, launching a nine-officer manhunt. When they learned that the kids had been making a fort earlier that day, one officer told CNN he suddenly felt compelled to start digging:

Newburgh police officer Brandon Rola approached one snowbank among several in the area and discovered a half-buried shovel that was "kind of sticking out of the pile," he said.

"I pulled the shovel out, and I definitely didn't put it together then but just kind of decided to start digging," Rola said on CNN's "The Lead" on Friday.

He said that even though he turned up nothing after four or five shovels full of snow, he kept digging into the 8-foot-tall pile.

"I just felt led to dig," he said.

Eventually dozens of people joined in the effort and the boys were freed from the snowbank around 2 a.m. Both were hospitalized but are expected to make full recoveries.

[image via CBS]