CASTAIC, Calif. — A 67-year-old man found alive days after his car plunged 200 feet off a mountain road built a makeshift camp, ate leaves and drank water from a nearby creek to survive, his daughter said.
After several days of radio silence from their dad, David Lavau's kids reported him missing to police. As rescue workers conducted an official search for the missing man, the Lavaus set out on their own.
The family members were the ones who located David Lavau at the bottom of a ravine in the Angeles National Forest in California Thursday.Video: Family finds dad after car goes off cliff (on this page)
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“We stopped at every ravine,’’ daughter Lisa Lavau told NBC News. “We kept screaming. We found him, no one else did. We did.’’
On TODAY Friday, son Sean Lavau joked in an interview alongside his siblings with TODAY’s Ann Curry: “We actually would not have a show long enough to talk about how that happened,’’ he said. “It was joint efforts in many different directions.’’
Eventually, it was Sean who shouted into a roadside ravine and heard a voice respond. He looked down — and saw his father’s mangled blue car.
“I finally got to him, (and) of course I hugged him, and we both cried,’’ Sean told NBC News. “I said ‘How did you make it?’ And he said, ‘I drank the water in the river, and I ate leaves and bugs.’ ’’
The severity of the situation was apparent when another wrecked vehicle from an unrelated accident was found next to Lavau’s car, smashed at the bottom of the same ravine. The decomposing body of the male driver, who has yet to be identified, was inside the other car.
Friday afternoon, NBC station KNBC reported that the second vehicle was registered to a Los Angeles man police reported missing earlier this month, according to DMV records.
The vehicle's owner, 88-year-old Melvin Gelfand, was last seen on Sept. 14 about 8 a.m., according to a Sept. 15 Los Angeles Police Department news release. Gelfand was heading to Valley View Casino in San Diego, although records show he never boarded his bus or used his player's card at the casino, according to police.
The search for David Lavau began when authorities told Lisa Lavau that her father had used his debit card at a nearby grocery store. She decided to search the area along with her daughter and brother, also using his recent cell phone activity to help triangulate his possible location. They started in Oxnard, Calif., and ended in Castaic, a sparsely populated area nearly 50 miles away.
When they finally found him, his first words to his family were a request: "Can I have some chocolate milk?" local station KCAL reported. But Lavau’s other daughter, Chardonnay, told Curry she'd like to clarify that claim.
“My father’s favorite thing is chocolate malt (not milk),’’ Chardonnay said. “He loves his Frosty Freeze.’’
Officials at the scene were told that Lavau might have been stranded for up to six days.
"It's unconfirmed, the duration, but it's possibly a significant amount of time," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Mark Savage. A paramedic was lowered to David Lavau from a helicopter. He was evaluated and taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for treatment.Story: Rescuer: I thought man beneath burning car was dead
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.
“I don’t think his life is in danger right now,’’ Dr. Garrett Sutter of Henry Mayo Newhall told NBC News. “He’s in a great deal of pain and very hungry. He didn’t have a lot of resources to handle it, so he suffered through it.’’
Police investigators are working on determining the cause of the accident. That particular stretch of road has been treacherous in recent years thanks to its sharp curves and steep cliffs.
“This is a bad section of road,’’ Capt. Bob Brandelli of the L.A. County Fire Department told NBC News. “This has been the fourth incident I’ve been on here where we’ve had cars over the side.’’
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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