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‘Life is incredible’: Oregon woman who survived 7 days after SUV plunged off cliff shares her story

Angela Hernandez not only lived through a 250-foot fall off Highway 1 in Big Sur, but then survived for an entire week before being found by hikers and subsequently rescued. (Photo: CNN)

Angela Hernandez survived on her own for seven days after her SUV plunged off an oceanside cliff in Big Sur, California. Two days after she was found by two surfers, she described her ordeal in detail in a Facebook post.

She got through that terrifying week by remembering songs she liked, daydreaming of foods she’d get to eat after she was found, and drinking some fresh water that dripped from the cliffs, she wrote.

Hernandez says the crash caused a brain hemorrhage, four fractured ribs, a break and fracture in both collar bones, a collapsed lung, ruptured blood vessels in both eyes and intense sunburns on her hands, feet, and face.

“For her to survive for seven days, on the coast, with waves crashing over you at times with injuries that she had is amazing,” Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal told reporters Monday. “She was a fighter, she had the will to survive. Most people in that situation probably wouldn’t have lasted that long, but she was a fighter and she had the will to live.”

The crash

On July 6, the 22-year-old’s Jeep Patriot ran off Highway 1, a north-south highway that hugs the Pacific coastline. She had been driving home to Southern California when a small animal stepped onto the road, causing her to swerve and lose control of her vehicle, she wrote.

The vehicle landed 200-250 feet down the cliff and was partially submerged, said John Thornburg, public information officer for the sheriff’s office in Monterey County, California.

“I don’t really remember much of the fall,” Hernandez said in her post. “The only thing I really remember after that was waking up. I was still in my car and I could feel water rising over my knees. My head hurt and when I touched it, I found blood on my hands.”

The power to her car was off and every window was closed, Hernandez said. She ended up breaking the driver’s side window with a multitool she kept in the car.

“Every bone in my body hurt,” she said. She said that all she could think about was her sister, and she began to scream her name.

After she got of her car and onto shore, Hernandez said she fell asleep “for an unknown amount of time.” It was still daylight when she woke up.

“It was only then that I had finally realized what had happened,” she said. “I stood up onto my feet and noticed a huge pain in my shoulders, hips, back, and thighs. I saw nothing but rocks, the ocean, and a cliff that I knew I’d never be able to look over.”

She saw her car and noticed the roof was ripped off. She looked own at her feet, and her shoes were gone. She tried getting into her car, where she kept a gallon of water, but wasn’t able to get to it.

“The next few days kind of became a blur,” Hernandez said.

She’d walk the beach searching for people, climb rocks to avoid “the sharp sand” and walk the shore to avoid hot rocks. She found a high spot where she could climb every day in hope of catching the attention of cars driving across the cliff. She says she’d stay at that high spot until “the sun became unbearable.”

“I … felt like if I could yell just loud enough, that one could hear or see me,” Hernandez said. “That’s all it would take to make it back to my family.”

Rituals

Hernandez began feeling the effects of dehydration about three days after the crash, she said in the post.

By this point, she said, “the back of my jeans were torn apart, my socks were nothing but holes.”

She went back to her car to salvage her belongings and found a 10-inch radiator hose that she kept in her sweater pocket. She used the hose to siphon fresh water dripping down the cliffs from a natural spring, Bernal said Monday.

“Every day, this became my ritual,” Hernandez said. “I’d walk up and down the beach looking for new high grounds, screaming ‘help’ at the top of my lungs, and collecting water falling from the top of the cliffs. Every night, I’d find the highest point I could climb up to and find somewhere to fall asleep before the tide would rise. Every morning, I’d wake up soaked in sea mist and watch the sun rise.”

Things never got easier as the days passed, she said, but they did become predictable.

“Songs I hadn’t heard in years would play on repeat inside of my head,” she said. “I’d day dream of foods I’d get to eat once I was found and imagined the face of the person who would eventually find me.”

The rescue

Hernandez said her last morning on the beach was “an especially good one.”

She had seen the Big Dipper in the sky the night before when she woke up to shoulder pain. That morning she walked to her normal spots “and started looking at everything a little bit differently.” She dozed off between some big rocks.

“When I sat up, I saw a woman walking across the shore,” she said, adding that she thought it was a dream because she had a similar dreams the last few days.

“I screamed, ‘HEEELLLPPPPP!’ and then got up as quickly as I could and ran over to her,” Hernandez said. “She was with a man and I don’t think they could believe their eyes.”

The two people who found her were surfers who decided to go on a hike that day, Bernal, the county sheriff, said.

“I couldn’t believe that they were even real,” Hernandez wrote. “I couldn’t believe that we had finally found each other.”

Bernal said that they had a large area to search — a 50-60 mile stretch of highway — and the weather limited authorities’ ability to find Hernandez. He also said the beach she was stranded at is not heavily traveled and walking around the Big Sur is difficult, “even for a fit, healthy person.”

Bernal advised drivers not swerve for animals, like Hernandez did before she crashed.

“It’s a natural reaction,” he said. “It’s better to hit them and sacrifice than to drive off the road and lose control.”

Hernandez, who was reunited with her family, said in her post that she feels “I have everything I’ve ever wanted.”

“I’m sitting here in the hospital, laughing with my sister until she makes broken bones hurt,” she said.

“I’ve met some of the most beautiful human beings that I think I’ll ever meet in my entire life. I’ve experienced something so unique and terrifying … I can’t imagine that there isn’t a bigger purpose for me in this life. I don’t know, you guys, life is incredible.”