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What You Can Learn From a Person Who Drove Off a Cliff and Survived

Kamee Collins | AUG 20, 2018

Angela Hernandez, a 23-year-old from Portland, Oregon, was on her way to Southern California. On July 6th, while driving through Big Sur, she saw a small animal on the highway. Swerving to miss the animal, Angela’s Jeep veered off the edge of the cliff.

What happened next is nothing short of miraculous.

Angela’s Jeep flew off the cliff, landing about 200-250 feet on the beach below. This Facebook post by photographer George Krieger describes what the vehicle recovery crew thinks may have happened.

“The vehicle recovery crew said you had to have gone over the edge, flipped, rolled, and changed direction several times before bouncing into the ocean.”

Some time during the crash, Angela injured her head and lost consciousness.

In a Facebook post by Angela, she describes her experience waking up to her car partially submerged in water:

I don't really remember much of the fall. They say I fell somewhere around 250 feet. 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.

What Angela did next, and how she survived for the next seven days, is a story of incredible survival.

What You Can Learn From Someone Who Drove Off a Cliff and Survived

1. Keep Your Emergency Kit Accessible

"My car's power was off by now and every window was closed. Everything kind of happens fast here. I took off my seatbelt and found a multi-tool I kept near my front seat. I started hitting the driver-side window with it… Eventually, I was able to break out of my car and jump into the ocean. I swam to the shore and fell asleep for an unknown amount of time. " - Angela Hernandez

Angela’s car was already submerged underwater when she regained consciousness. Rather than panic, Angela reached for the emergency tool she kept easily accessible near her front seat. She was able to break the window of her car and escape before it filled with water completely.

That’s the first thing we can learn from Angela:

Emergency kits are incredibly useful tools — but only if you can reach them in a time of need.

If you’re prepared, you likely already have an emergency kit in your car. But many of us keep those kits in our trunks or the back seat. If Angela’s multi-tool had been stored in her trunk, we may not be telling her story right now. By keeping the tool in an easy-to-reach place, she was able to ensure her safety and her continue her fight for survival.

Where to store a small emergency kit for best accessibility:

  • Seat-back pockets on the passenger side
  • Center console
  • Glove compartment
  • Under the front passenger seat

 Don’t have an emergency kit yet?

You can purchase a ready-made kit here. These kits come in three options; basic, complete, and premier.

What to put in your car emergency kit:

  • An emergency multi-tool that can cut your seatbelt and break your window
  • A first aid kit
  • Food
  • An expandable water carrier
  • An emergency survival blanket
  • A whistle
  • Flint, matches, or other fire-starting materials

2. Find Water

About 3 days had passed by now and the back of my jeans were torn apart, my socks were nothing but holes, and I could start feeling the effects of dehydration. I found my way back to my car and started looking around for anything I could use. I found a 10-inch black hose that seemed to have fallen off of my vehicle during the crash. It fit perfectly in the front pocket of my sweater, so I kept it there. I walked farther south down the beach than I ever had before and heard a dripping sound. I looked up and saw a huge patch of moss with water dripping down from it. I caught the water in my hands and tasted it. It was fresh!!!! I collected as much as I could in my little hose and drank from it for maybe an hour.” — Angela Hernandez

According to this article, written shortly after the young Thai soccer team was rescued from a cave, the average person can survive about a month without food but only about a week without water.

That estimation drops drastically if the weather is hot and dry, as it was along the California coast where Angela found herself stranded.

Angela was right: dehydration is deadly. Once you are physically safe, your first concern in an emergency should be about where you will find water.

The Pacific Ocean is filled with salt water that, if Angela tried to drink it, would speed up her risk of dehydration.

Angela was smart, and knew to look for an alternative water source that was fresh. Her smart thinking likely saved her life in the hot California sun.

Where to find safe drinking water in the wild:

  • Collect rainwater using a tarp and a container
  • Gather water from lakes, streams, or rivers. Filter and purify this water, if possible, for many bodies of water contain harmful bacteria
  • Collect early morning dew gathered on plants and grasses. Use a bandana, towel, or cloth torn from your clothing to soak up the dew, then wring it out into a container or directly into your mouth
  • Condensation from mosses, plants, and root systems can be gathered using a cloth or, as Angela did, using tubing or a container
  • Plant transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from from leaves and blossoms. You can capture this water by wrapping the leafy parts of a plant in a clear plastic bag in the early morning. The water will condense inside the bag. Learn more about the process here
  • Melting snow and ice
  • Dig a beach well. Sand-filtered salt water mixes with fresh water runoff from dunes and cliffs deep under the sand. Dig until you find water, and taste it. If it still tastes salty, dig further from the shore. Once you find water that tastes fresh enough to drink, soak it up with cloth and wring it into a container.

 Once you find a water source, you will need a way to collect it. Angela was incredibly resourceful, searching through the wreckage of her crash to find a suitable vessel.

What you can use to collect fresh water:

 3. Be Aware

The next few days kind of became a blur. I'd walk up and down the beach in search of an another human being. I'd climb on rocks to avoid the sharp sand, walk along the shore to avoid the hot rocks, and air wrestle tiny crabs. I found a high spot I was able to climb up to and found myself there almost every day… Every night, I'd find the highest point I could climb up to and find somewhere to fall asleep before the tide would rise.” — Angela Hernandez

In the days following her accident, Angela was suffering from a brain hemorrhage, four broken ribs, a broken collarbone, severe sunburn, and many other injuries.

Despite her delicate state, she never lost sight of her most important goal: to stay alive.

There is yet another lesson for us: Angela was vigilantly aware of her surroundings, moving to higher ground to avoid the rising tide while she slept, avoiding hot rocks and sharp sand, and constantly on the lookout for a potential rescuer.

It is essential to stay aware, in any emergency situation. One wrong move can put you in an even more dangerous situation.

4. Stay Visible

Every day, this became my ritual. 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.” — Angela Hernandez

The ultimate goal in any survival situation like this one is to live long enough to get rescued.

Unfortunately for Angela, she was at the bottom of a 200 foot cliff, where it seemed unlikely that anyone would see her.

Angela didn’t let that stop her, she worked hard to stay loud and visible in the hopes that her rescuers would arrive soon.

This article has some great tips on how to signal for help when you’re in the wilderness. Some of the tips include:

  • Use a mirror to reflect sunlight
  • Build a signal fire using any available materials
  • Create a ground-to-air symbol using rocks, sticks, and other materials
  • Blow a whistle

5. Keep Fighting

It would be a lie to say that things got easier as the days passed. They never did. But, they sure got predictable. Songs I hadn't heard in years would play on repeat inside of my head. 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.” — Angela Hernandez

Angela’s greatest asset? Her attitude.

In this article by the Washington Post, rescuer Chad Moore describes finding Angela on the beach: “Angela was right there in the rocks, just looked like hell… But she was happy at the same time. She was happy to see us. We asked her, ‘Were you in the Jeep?’ and she said, ‘That was my Jeep.’ ”

Somehow, Even after being stranded without food or water at the bottom of a cliff for seven days, Angela didn’t give up.

Angela’s rescuers, Chad Moore and his wife Chelsea Moore, call her a hero.

A positive attitude can get you through almost any situation. It will help you keep fighting, keep strong, and keep safe. Angela imagined foods she’d eat and the face of her rescuer to help keep the fight going.

6. Stay Focused

Angela’s greatest asset in her ordeal was her brain. She didn’t panic, didn’t fall into the trap of “why me,” and certainly never gave up.

That is a lesson that we can apply to any part of our lives: mindset matters.

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, think about Angela Hernandez and her incredible will to survive. Remind yourself that you can overcome any setback with some focus, some strength, and an incredible will.

  • Don’t panic
  • Assess your situation
  • Keep a level head
  • Find water and food if possible
  • Keep fighting

If you feel inspired by Angela, and would like to help assist in her recovery, you can donate to a GoFundMe account set up by her sister, Isabel. Please click here to visit the GoFundMe page.