BIG SUR, Calif. – An Oregon woman who disappeared a week earlier was found alive at the bottom of an oceanside cliff in Big Sur, California, where she survived in the wreckage of her SUV by using her radiator hose to siphon water from a nearby creek, authorities said Saturday.
Angela Hernandez, 22, of Portland, lost control of her vehicle and plunged 200-250 feet down a cliff, leaving the Jeep partially submerged in the ocean, said John Thornburg, public information officer for the sheriff’s office in Monterey County, California.
Hernandez may have been able to get out of the SUV, but was stuck in the rocky, inaccessible spot, he said.
Late Friday, two people walking in Big Sur noticed the SUV wreckage at the bottom of a cliff, Thornburg said. They went back to their campsite and called 911, he said.
“I have to tell you, Angela is an amazing, amazing young woman,” said Sheriff Steve Bernal. “She had to fight to survive.”
Hernandez’s Jeep Patriot apparently ran off Highway 1, the north-south highway that hugs the Pacific coastline. She was driving from Portland to visit family in Lancaster, in Southern California.
Angela said in a Facebook post that she was driving “when a small animal stepped onto the road, causing me to swerve and lose control of my vehicle,” sending her Jeep over the edge of the tight highway. She said she didn’t remember much of the fall.
This is how she described coming to consciousness:
“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. 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. Every bone in my body hurt. The onnnly thing racing through my mind was my sister, Isabel. So I started screaming her name.
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.
When I woke up, it was still daylight and it was only then that I had finally realized what had happened. 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. I could see my car not too far from me, half washed up on shore with the roof ripped off of it. I looked down at my feet and saw that my shoes were gone. I tried getting into my car, because I had a gallon of water hidden away inside (I was never able to get to it, by the way, ahah).”
Hernandez described the next days as a blur, walking up and down the desolate beach in search of a way out. At one point she managed to climb just high enough to see cars driving above, and each day she would return to that vantage point.
“(I) felt like if I could yell just loud enough, that one could hear or see me,” she wrote. “That’s all it would take to make it back to my family. Just one person noticing me. I’d usually stay there until the sun became unbearable and then would find a way to slide myself back down to the shore.”
Law enforcement agencies began looking for Hernandez on July 6, when her family reported that she’d stopped communicating with them. She was a frequent user of social media and the lack of communication was unusual, authorities said.
Hernandez said that on the third day, as dehydration set in, she made a discovery that likely saved her life:
“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.”
The following days she devoted to calling for help and siphoning water from the moss. At night, Hernandez would climb as high as she could so the tide couldn’t reach her and would wake up “soaked in sea mist” as the sun rose.
“It would be a lie to say that things got easier as the days passed,” Hernandez wrote. “They never did.” She said they did get predictable, however, and soon the monotony of her predicament sent “songs I hadn’t heard in years” and “dreams of foods I’d get to eat” running through her mind.
Then, on Friday, a sight Hernandez said she didn’t believe at first – there was a woman walking down the beach toward her.
“I screamed, ‘HEEELLLPPPPP!’ and then got up as quickly as I could and ran over to her,” Hernandez remembered. “She was with a man and I don’t think they could believe their eyes. They acted so quickly. She ran down the beach and up a trail to go find help while the man stayed with me and gave me fresh water.”
Hernandez is now recovering from her injuries, which she said include multiple broken ribs, fractured collar bones, a lung collapse, ruptured blood vessels in her eyes and intense sunburns to her extremities.
Isabel Hernandez, her sister, thanked the people who looked for her.
“We just want to thank everybody .. that helped,” she told CNN affiliate KGO. “It’s day seven and you guys helped us through the whole thing and Angela would not be OK” without you.
“I’ve experienced something so unique and terrifying and me that I can’t imagine that there isn’t a bigger purpose for me in this life,” Hernandez wrote on Facebook. “I don’t know, you guys, life is incredible.”
CNN contributed to this report.