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Video: Family finds dad after car goes off cliff

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    >> we're following an amazing story of survival, a 67-year-old man rescued from the bottom of a ravine nearly a week after reported missing and found by his very own determined children. we'll talk to them in just a moment. first nbc's kristen dahlgren is in valencia, california, with details. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, we're told ladavid leveau is in good spirits. happy to be alive who when he went missing his children took matters into their own hands.

    >> i thought i heard a voice and i said hello, and i screamed down there. someone said help.

    >> reporter: that someone was david laveau a retired cable worker who rescuers pulled from the bottom of a cliff late thursday after his daughters heard his cry for help.

    >> if anyone can find our dad, it's us. with he stopped at every ravine.

    >> oh my god there's our dad. i looked down and i saw my dads acar. i finally got to him and of course i hugged him and we broet cried. i said, how did you make it? and he said, i drank the water in the river and i ate leaves and bugs.

    >> he asked for a chocolate milkshake. he said he tried to crawl up the hill with a broken bones .

    >> reporter: lavau had been missing for nearly a week and family members set out to retrace the route from oxnard, california, in the hopes of covering a trail. they found him in castaic, nearly 50 miles away .

    >> he had to have had an accident and gone off the cliff and we were driving through and instantly heard someone yelling help from down below.

    >> i said dad we're going to be there. hang on. he just was crying and crying and so i just slid down.

    >> reporter: but at the bottom the grim future their father could have faced. lavau's blue car landed next to a silver one to a completely separate accident. the driver of the other car hadn't been so lucky, his decomposing body still in the vehicle.

    >> the family that's been wanting their father to know what happened, and now they have peace. i wish it was better peace, i'm sorry for that.

    >> reporter: california highway patrol is investigating the cause of lavau's accident.

    >> supposedly just lost control there was a bright car and if you saw where the accident happened, several cars have gone off.

    >> this is a bad section of road. this has been the fourth incident i've been on here where we've had cars over the side.

    >> reporter: lavau was air lifted to henry mayo hospital suffering broken bones and dehydration, he's in stable condition and expected to recover.

    >> i don't think his life is in danger right now. he's in a great deal of pain, very dehydrated and very hungry. he didn't have a lot of resources to handle with it so he suffered through it.

    >> reporter: family and friends whose search efforts paid off glad lavau is alive because they took efforts into their own hands.

    >> we found him. no one else did. we did.

    >> reporter: the identity of the victim in that other car hasn't been released. as for lavau, broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, multiple fractures in his back but only expected to be in the hospital, ann, for another three or four days.

    >> that's pretty amazing. kristen dal gran thank you so much. we have chardonnay, sean and lisa lavau all with us.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> the first question is how did you know to look in that particular area? sean ?

    >> we actually would not have a show long enough to talk about how long that happened. it was joint efforts in many different directions, and putting together chardonnay and her husband, jesse, and morgan gonzalez and her girlfriend bethany, and me and jessica, and lisa , and her daughter, and just everything collaborated and ended up just joining forces and ended up actually meeting almost at the same spot within a half hour. it just, it just, we were just talking about it, getting ready for this and we're still baffled ourselves.

    >> you were doing this even though authorities were conducting their own search. what made you decide to jump into the search yourself.

    >> actually i'll let my sister chardonnay talk about that. she really handled a lot of the beginning work of the missing persons as well as the detective work, so chardonnay, its eight yours.

    >> well, my goodness, where do you start. what happened first is that immediately when our stories matched up that we had a problem, that my father was missing, we were connected through to the missing persons homicide department in los angeles with detective harris. detective harris ended up work ing with us and being able to put things together and try to wean out what could have been foul play and what was the real issue, and once the stories started matching up and us realizing that my father was missing from a period of time, that we were aware of certain things with text messages, that we were able to zero in and ping his towers of the satellite towers of the cell phone towers actually to be able to narrow down exactly where my father was coming through, and knowing that he was coming back through castaic.

    >> which is pretty amazing. so when you finally then got to this location, and you heard his voice for the first time, lisa , you want to take it? what was your reaction?

    >> well, i wish i could say that i was there. i was actually -- we went up to from 126 to the highway, and sean was getting out of his car at one area, so we had actually two cars and six people looking for my dad, so what happened is, one would go to one ravine and look over the hill and my daughter and i marquelle go to the next ravine and look over and as i was looking at the ravine before my brother, i left that ravine and i see jessica coming up the street saying, "we found him." i get out of the car at that point and all i know is i can see my dad's car, and sean and him saying, go get 911. so i left at that moment and it was a long ride down the mountain.

    >> very amazing, and is it true that one of the first things your father asked for was chocolate milk ? he must be a big fan of that.

    >> a whole lot.

    >> we really have to correct this one. my father's favorite thing is a chocolate malt.

    >> malt.

    >> oh.

    >> it wasn't chocolate milk .

    >> sorry.

    >> he loves his frosty freeze .

    >> specifically frosty freeze .

    >> i'm sure he's going to get a lot of those now. it's so great to hear what you've done. i bet the next time you need a loan or to call in for money if you're on vacation your dad's going to probably be more likely to say yes after all of this. you are all three heroes. thank you so much for joining us.

Image: Los Angeles County firefighters in Angeles National Forest, north of Castaic, Calif.
Jonathan Pobre  /  AP
Los Angeles County firefighters in Angeles National Forest, north of Castaic, Calif., after two vehicles plunged 200 feet down the canyon below.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 9/30/2011 7:57:20 PM ET 2011-09-30T23:57:20

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.

Story: Man honored for saving lives after car crashes into store

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.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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