Couple in car survive 300-foot fall into Southern California canyon

Cloe Fields and her boyfriend, Christian Zelada, were driving on a two-lane highway at the edge of a steep canyon in Southern California on Tuesday when, they said, a woman in a white Mercedes pulled up behind them and started honking.

Zelada said he had pulled over to let the woman pass. Suddenly, the couple said, their Hyundai Elantra hit some gravel, lost traction, spun 180 degrees and plunged over the edge.

Fields said the car had smashed into a few trees as it careened downward before it flipped over and landed wheels up at the bottom of the canyon.

The couple had fallen about 300 feet, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. And they had survived with no major injuries.

“We only had bruises on our faces, cuts and a little bit of neck pain and, now, a mild concussion,” Fields, 23, a freelance video editor, said in an interview Friday.

Sgt. John Gilbert of the Sheriff’s Department said it was a “miracle” that the couple had survived the plunge into Monkey Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, which was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

When other drivers have fallen into that canyon, “we’re normally dealing with a fatality,” Gilbert, coordinator of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, which responded to the crash, said in an interview. “It’s just so steep and so far down.”

After unbuckling their seat belts and crawling out of the car, Fields and Zelada faced their next challenge: calling for help in a remote canyon with no cellphone reception. It was about 2 p.m., with temperatures in the 40s, Gilbert said. At night, temperatures in the canyon drop into the 30s, he said.

Zelada looked for Fields’s cellphone and found it about 10 yards from their car, with the screen smashed. Even though there was no cell service, the phone had detected that there had been a crash, Fields said. Her iPhone 14 gave her a prompt to contact emergency services through a new feature called Emergency SOS via satellite.

In places with no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage, the service allows users to send emergency messages via satellites hundreds of miles above Earth, according to Apple. The phone relays the answers users give to a few short questions to an emergency call center, along with the user’s location, according to Apple.

Fields said her phone had instructed her to point it toward a satellite and hold it there, which allowed her to summon help.

“It was honestly strange,” Fields said, adding that although she is a “very techie kind of a person,” she had not known about the satellite feature.

The Sheriff’s Department said it had received a call at about 1:55 p.m. from Apple’s emergency call center and had dispatched the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and other agencies.

Gilbert said the call center had given the authorities an accurate latitude and longitude for Fields and Zelada’s location. He said he was not aware of anyone else who had called to report the crash, “so there was a high potential they could have been stuck in the canyon after midnight.”

A rescue team arrived in a helicopter, hoisted the couple out of the canyon and took them to a hospital. A spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol said that the crash was under investigation and that no further information was immediately available.

Zelada, 24, a Honda sales consultant, said he was not sure how the couple had survived. He said he remembered gripping the steering wheel as the car plunged into the canyon, and Fields said she remembered him saying as the car fell: “We’re OK. We’re OK. We’re OK.”

Later, Zelada said, he told Fields, “We were in the 1 in 100 million who get to walk away with our lives and our limbs.”