Highway 1 along the California coast is both beautiful and dangerous. To drive on the coastline, drivers need to pay attention and be alert and drive appropriately. They can’t be distracted or impaired, as the guardrail separating the road from the edge of the cliff won’t do much to help if a car swerves out of control.
A California resident knows this all too well as she plummeted off of Highway 1 after swerving to avoid an animal on the road. Two days after she was found by surfers, she described the one-week ordeal in a Facebook post.
On July 6, Angela Hernandez, 22, was driving along Highway 1 when a small animal walked onto the road. Angela didn’t want to hit the creature, so she instinctively tried to swerve, causing her to lose control of her vehicle. Normally, losing control on a highway like that would result in death, but luckily, Angela was resilient.
After swerving, Angela and her vehicle plummeted 250 feet off the cliff. “Sometime around noon on July 6th, I was in the final half of a beaaaautiful drive home to Southern California. I was passing through Big Sur when a small animal stepped onto the road, causing me to swerve and lose control of my vehicle. I don’t really remember much of the fall,” Angela wrote in her Facebook post.
Waking up in Her Car
“The only thing I really remember after that was waking up,” she continued. “I was still in my car and I could feel water rising over my knees. My head hurt when I touched it, I found blood on my hands.” By then, her car’s power was off and every window was closed. From there, everything happened very fast.
Breaking Out of Her Car
Angela recalled taking her seat-belt off and using a tool she kept near her front seat to break the driver side window. “Every bone in my body hurt,” she said. All Angela could think about was her sister Isabel, so she started screaming her name. After getting out of her car and onto shore, Angela fell asleep for an “unknown amount of time.” It was daylight already when she woke up.
Pain all Over
Not realizing the magnitude of what happened yet, Angela noticed a huge pain in her shoulders, hips, back, and thighs when she stood up. “I saw nothing but rocks, the ocean, and a cliff that I knew I’d never be able to look over.” She saw her car not too far from her, half washed up on the shore with the roof ripped off of it.
No Water to Drink
After freeing herself from her car, Angela realized she had no water to drink and the gallon of water she had was hidden away inside her car. She knew she wouldn’t be able to get it out. “The next few days became a blur,” Angela said. She’d walk to the beach in search of people, climb rocks to avoid “sharp sand” and walk the shore to avoid hot rocks.
Dreaming of Being Found
She eventually found a high spot she was able to climb up to and found herself there almost every day. “I could see cars driving across the cliff and felt like if I could yell just loud enough, that one could hear or see me. 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.”
Three days had passed and the back of Angela’s jeans were torn apart and her socks had holes in them. By then, she could feel the effects of dehydration and she found her way back to her car looking around for anything she could use or drink. “I found a 10-inch black hose that seemed to have fallen off of my vehicle during the crash,” Angela said.
Finding Fresh Water
She explained that it fit perfectly in the front pocket of her sweater, so she kept it there. “I walked further 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.”
This became her daily ritual. She’d walk up and down the beach looking for new high grounds, screaming “help” at the top of her lungs, and collecting water falling from the top of cliffs. Every night, she’d find the highest point she could climb up to and find somewhere to fall asleep before the tide would rise.
Watching the Sun Rise
Every morning, Angela would wake up soaked in sea mist and she would watch the sunrise. “It would be a lie to say that things got easier as the days passed. They never did. But, they sure got predictable,” she said. Angela would start to hear songs she hadn’t heard in years repeat in her head over and over.
She’d daydream about what to eat after being found. She’d imagine the face of the person who would eventually find her. That night, she woke up in the middle of the night because of shoulder pain, but she found a moment of happiness when she saw the Big Dipper in the sky. Then, she walked to her usual spots on the beach and started looking at everything a little bit differently.
Her Last Morning on the Beach
“I fell asleep between some big rocks and let the sand cover my hair. It was warm out and I finally woke up before the sun had gone down. When I sat up, I saw a woman walking across the shore. I thought she was a dream. (I had a few just like this during the past few days),” Angela described.
She immediately screamed for help and then got up as quickly as she could and ran over to the woman. “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.”
The man told her that they were a married couple who loved the ocean and they had been exploring when they came across her destroyed vehicle. The Moores saw a bumper at first and thought to themselves, “that’s weird.” They told KION-TV that they began picking up scattered debris from the car, including its license plate, to turn over to police.
It Was Surreal
Then they turned around and Angela was right there on the rocks. “She looked like hell,” Chad Moore said. “She was happy at the same time, she was really happy to see us.”
Airlifted to a Nearby Hospital
“I couldn’t believe that they were even real. I couldn’t believe that we had finally found each other.” The couple gave Angela food and blankets until emergency response arrived. “Eventually, a rescue team was able to pull me up the cliff and lead me to a helicopter that took me to a nearby hospital. There, I was reunited with my family and discovered the extent of my injuries.”
Angela learned from doctors that she was suffering from a brain hemorrhage during the first few days after the crash. She also had four broken ribs, fractures in both of her collarbones, a collapsed lung, ruptured blood vessels in her eyes and extreme sunburns on her face, feet, and hands.
Search and Rescue
The two people that found Angela were surfers who decided to go on a hike that day, according to Steve Bernal, the county sheriff. He told CNN that they had a large area to search and the weather limited authorities to find Angela after the crash. Bernal also said that that beach in particular was not heavily traveled, and that walking around Big Sur is difficult, even for a healthy person. Bernal advised drivers not to swerve for animals like Angela did. “It’s a natural reaction. [But] it’s better to hit them … than to drive off the road and lose control,” he said.
After being reunited with her family, Angela said, “I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I’m sitting here in the hospital, laughing with my sister until she makes broken bones hurt. I’ve met some of the most beautiful human beings that I think I’ll ever meet in my entire life. I’ve experienced something so unique and terrifying that I can’t imagine that there isn’t a bigger purpose for me in this life. I don’t know, you guys, life is incredible,” she wrote on Facebook.