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California man, 67, found alive by family after his car plunged 200 feet off mountain 6 days earlier

    Los Angeles County firefighters are stationed on Lake Hughes Road, where two vehicles were found off the side and approximately 200 feet in the canyon below in the Angeles National Forest, north of Castaic, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011.


SANTA CLARITA, Calif. >> A physician says a 67-year-old man found alive after his car plunged 200 feet off a California mountain road some six days ago told him he collided with an oncoming car after being temporarily blinded by the headlights.

Dr. Garrett Sutter, an emergency room physician at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, told a press conference today that David Lavau was in serious but stable condition after his ordeal and should be released in three to four days.

Lavau’s three children found their father Thursday afternoon after a detective narrowed his whereabouts to a treacherous mountain road about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Lavau had survived by eating leaves and bugs and drinking creek water.

Lavau’s chldren — Chardonnay, Sean and Lisa Lavau — appeared on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, describing how they found their father’s car and his makeshift camp in a ravine Thursday off Lake Hughes Road in the Angeles National Forest, a rugged landscape lying between metropolitan Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert. 

Another vehicle was found nearby, but its driver did not survive the crash and authorities don’t know if they are dealing with one crash or two, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Mark Savage. The accident investigation was turned over to the California Highway Patrol.

David Lavau was listed in serious condition this morning, said Adrienne Thompson, spokeswoman at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia.

Family members apparently did not immediately realize their father was missing, and then contacted a missing persons detective in Los Angeles who helped them figure out that he had been gone for some time. 

The detective narrowed the search area using cell phone towers, text messages and debit card purchases, Chardonnay Lavau told NBC and other organizations.

Lisa Lavau told KCAL-TV her family had not heard from her father for several days.

After narrowing the search area, “We stopped at every ravine, and looked over every hill and then my brother got out of the car and we kept screaming and the next thing we heard Dad saying ‘help, help,’ and there he was,” Lisa Lavau said.

Chardonnay Lavau told NBC one of the first things her father asked for after he was found was a chocolate malt.

Officials at the scene were told he might have been stranded for up to six days, Savage said.

“It’s unconfirmed, the duration, but it’s possibly a significant amount of time,” Savage said.

Fire officials responded at around 6:10 p.m. Thursday and a paramedic was lowered to David Lavau from a helicopter. He was evaluated and taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for treatment.

David Lavau suffered multiple rib fractures, a dislocated shoulder, a broken arm and multiple fractures in his back, but none of the injuries was life-threatening, said hospital spokeswoman Bhavna Mistery. He was expected to undergo surgery and it was not clear how long he would be hospitalized, she said. He was doing well and in good spirits surrounded by his family, she added.

The three family members who hiked down to him had to be assisted out of the area on foot by firefighters.

The crash occurred in a sparsely populated area about 50 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.  

Savage said roads in the area have sharp curves and in many areas go down to two lanes, with some steep cliffs and drops over the side.

Savage said firefighters remained on the scene late Thursday to do a thorough search of the area to make sure there were no other victims in the accident.

The identity of the deceased driver has not been released. 

The recovery of the body was delayed until daylight Friday, said Craig Harvey, spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. It was being brought up the ravine by a sheriff’s team.




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