David Lavau, Man Who Survived Cliff Crash, Is Recuperating In Intensive Care

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Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- A man who miraculously survived a 200-foot plunge down a mountain ravine where he was trapped for six days was steadily recovering in the intensive care unit of a hospital, his son-in-law said Monday.

David La Vau, who was badly injured when his car went off a winding, mountain road 50 miles north of Los Angeles, underwent surgery over the weekend to repair a broken left arm and dislocated shoulder. He also suffered broken ribs and a back injury.

La Vau was on pain medication Monday, said his son-in-law Jesse Hooker, one of six family members who organized their own search party for the Lake Hughes man. They found him with the help of a sheriff's detective who provided records of La Vau's cell phone calls and debit card purchases just before he disappeared.

"He's still recovering. He's still in ICU," Hooker said, adding it wasn't immediately clear when La Vau might go home. "We just want to make sure Dad is taken care of."

La Vau, 68, said he survived for six days after the crash by eating bugs and leaves and drinking water from a creek. He said he spent nights in his wrecked car and his days outside, yelling for help every 30 minutes or so. He could hear cars on the road above him, but none stopped.

"I think he miraculously survived this ordeal," Dr. Ranbir Singh, trauma director at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita, said shortly after examining La Vau. He added La Vau might not have been so lucky if he hadn't found water.

Hospital spokeswoman Andie Bogdan said Monday La Vau was listed in serious condition.

An 88-year-old man, whose car went off the road in the same area two weeks before La Vau's, was killed. His body wasn't located until La Vau was found.

Coroner's investigator Jerry McKibben said his office was awaiting dental records to positively identify the man. However, the family of Melvin Gelfand said authorities told them they are 99 percent sure it was him. They believe Gelfand, from West Hollywood, may have gotten lost on a day trip to a San Diego area casino.

La Vau has told doctors he borrowed the dead man's glasses and took a flare from Gelfand's car in an effort to survive. The flare, which he had hoped to use to signal for help, had expired and wouldn't light.

California Highway Patrol Officer John Lutz said accident investigators have little more to go on other than La Vau's account in determining what caused the crash. Little evidence was found on the mountain road.

La Vau has said he was driving home to Lake Hughes about 7 p.m. on Sept. 23 when he swerved to the right to avoid the bright lights of an oncoming car. He said he slammed on the brakes of his own car when it went up on the narrow road's shoulder, but it plunged over the side before he could stop.

After sheriff's Detective Diane Harris helped La Vau's family pin down the general area where he was believed to be, the family stopped at every curve on the road until they found him.

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