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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2011

Man found alive 6 days after car plunges off cliff

His children form rescue party

BLADE NEWS SERVICES
The car of a man who survived for six days after the vehicle plunged 200 feet off a remote mountain road is recovered in Castaic, Calif., Friday. Almost a week after the accident, David Lavau, 68, was rescued by his three adult children. The car of a man who survived for six days after the vehicle plunged 200 feet off a remote mountain road is recovered in Castaic, Calif., Friday. Almost a week after the accident, David Lavau, 68, was rescued by his three adult children.
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SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- David Lavau's children drove slowly along the perilous mountain road, stopping to peer over the treacherous drop-offs and call out for their father, missing for six days.

Then they heard a faint cry: "Help, help."

Close to one week after his car plunged 200 feet into a ravine, Mr. Lavau, 68, was rescued late Thursday by his three adult children.

They had taken matters into their own hands after a detective told them their father's last cell phone signal came from a rugged section of the Angeles National Forest.

As he lay injured in the woods next to his wrecked car, he survived by eating bugs and leaves and drinking creek water, a doctor said.

One of the first things he requested after his rescue: a chocolate malt, his daughter Chardonnay Lavau said on NBC's Today show.

Mr. Lavau was listed in serious but stable condition yesterday at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital with three rib fractures, a dislocated shoulder, a broken arm, and fractures in his back, Dr. Garrett Sutter said.

He was expected to be released in three to four days after surgery on his shoulder.

Dr. Ranbir Singh, the hospital's trauma director, said Mr. Lavau told him he was driving home about 7 p.m. when he was temporarily blinded by the headlights of an oncoming car.

He braked but failed to gain traction. The car flipped and plunged down the embankment.

Mr. Lavau said he was unsure if he collided with the car. However, a second car containing a male body was found next to Mr. Lavau's vehicle.

That car, a Toyota Camry, was identified as belonging to 88-year-old Melvin Gelfand, whose family had reported him missing on Sept. 14, said Los Angeles police Detective Marla Ciuffetelli of the missing persons unit.

The body found in the car could not be visually identified due to decomposition, but Mr. Gelfand's son-in-law Will Matlack said the family had been contacted by the coroner's office, which was trying to match fingerprints or dental records to make a positive identification.

"The coroner said it's 99 percent a sure thing," Mr. Matlack said.

Mr. Lavau spent the night in his wrecked car and crawled out in daylight. He found a stream nearby and ate ants, the doctor said.

He also found a flare in the other car and tried to light it, but it was expired. He also couldn't find his cell phone.

Mr. Lavau could hear cars and see their lights on the road above and was hopeful he'd be discovered, but as time passed, he grew more uncertain.

"He mentally said good-bye to his family. He wasn't sure anyone would be able to find him," Dr. Singh said.

His children told Today that after realizing he was missing, they contacted a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective, who was able to narrow Mr. Lavau's whereabouts through his most recent cellphone use, text messages, and debit card purchases, to the sparsely populated area about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.

The children then organized themselves into a search party.

"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.

Sean Lavau slid down the embankment to reach his father.

Firefighters rappelled down the 70-degree ravine to reach Mr. Lavau and a helicopter lifted him and a paramedic out.

It is not uncommon for cars to plunge off the side of roads in the steep, hilly terrain of Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County fire inspector Matt Levesque said.

The California Highway Patrol is investigating the accident.

Mr. Lavau is expected to make a full recovery.



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