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Man, 68, recovering after 6 days trapped in ravine

September 30, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A 68-year-old grandfather is recovering after he survived six days trapped in the Angeles National Forest following a car accident.

The crash happened on Lake Hughes and Pine Canyon roads Sept. 23 when David Lavau's blue Toyota plunged roughly 200 feet down a steep ravine.

Lavau's children are extremely grateful that their father is alive, and they're crediting themselves for finding him after days of combing the highway.

Lavau kept himself alive by drinking creek water, eating dead bugs, bees specifically, as well as leaves. He couldn't climb out of the ravine because he had broken several bones, fractured his back and dislocated his shoulder.

Lavau's daughters say their father lost control of his car when another vehicle flashed its lights. Lavau's family said they did not hear from him for five days, which they found to be very unusual. They reported him missing Wednesday and were determined to find him.

Authorities tracked Lavau's credit card activity and confirmed he had gone to a local Ralphs to buy bread and cheese. With that piece of information, Lavau's relatives narrowed their search to Castaic. His children said they looked down every ravine and kept screaming for their father. When they made their discovery Thursday, they said they heard him yelling for help.

"It was scary, but when I heard he's alive, I almost fell to the ground because it became real," said Lavau's daughter Lisa Lavau.

"We just really didn't think he was alive. We were just so happy to find his car and that we were going to maybe have closure," said Lavau's other daughter, Chardonnay Hooker. "Then we hear my brother scream at the top of the hill, 'He's alive. He's alive.' All we heard was dead, that someone was dead, and we didn't understand that there was two cars involved."

Lavau's car crashed in an area where another driver had also gone off the side of the road, plunging into the ravine. That driver, who did not survive, has not been identified. Authorities say the two accidents do not appear to be related.

Lavau's daughters' efforts to find their father may have also helped solve another missing person case. Both sisters donned "Pink Panther" T-shirts as a symbol of their detective work.

"My dad fell six inches from another car with a dead guy in it. Through that, somebody's family has now found their family members, and we're lucky. We're very lucky," said Lisa Lavau.

The other car is registered to Melvin Gelfand, who was reported missing on Sept. 14. Gelfand's daughter, Joan Matlack, believes the body to be her father.

"We are just grateful that this other family had some leads and were able to find their father," said Matlack. "We are happy for that, but they were able to find my father because we may have never found him."

Son-in-law Will Matlack said that he was a WWII veteran.

"Participated in all of the South Pacific battles, including the battle of Iwo Jima," he said.

"He's my dad, and I don't think anybody had a bad thing to say about him," said Joan Matlack.

Police moved the cars and the body of that driver out of the ravine on Friday. It remains unclear how long that driver had been down in the ravine.

Lavau is recovering at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia. He is expected to undergo emergency surgery for a dislocated shoulder on Saturday. He will probably be in the hospital for several more days.

His family says he is in good spirits and his sense of humor is coming through despite the entire ordeal. He's been asking for a Fosters Freeze milkshake and an In-N-Out burger.


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