- A young couple fell 300 feet from Angeles Crest Highway northeast of Los Angeles on Tuesday.
- Cloe Fields told Insider that an iPhone feature she didn’t know she had may have saved their lives.
- The new Emergency SOS feature detects crashes and uses satellites to contact emergency services.
Cloe Fields and her boyfriend, Christian Zelada, on Tuesday were taking a scenic drive through the Angeles National Forest, as they often did, when things took a turn for the worst—their car went over the edge of the mountain and tumbled 300 feet before landing, upside down, in the canyon below.
“Angeles Crest is our backyard,” Fields, 23, told Insider of the highway that crosses the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. “We love driving up there. It’s beautiful, especially after the rain.”
But at around the halfway mark, the couple was being closely followed and honked at by another vehicle trying to pass on the dramatically winding roads, which are frequently used as a backdrop for car commercials. As they pulled over to give the driver some room to pass, the car lost its traction and continued towards the cliff edge before spinning off.
“The next thing we know, we were falling,” Fields said, adding she remembered saying her boyfriend’s name as they approached the edge. “I still couldn’t register in my head.”
She said she was in shock after they went over, but Zelada, 24, kept saying, “We’re okay, we’re okay, we’re okay,” until about halfway down, when he thought to himself. “This is it. This is how it’s going to end.”
But after the car landed — upside down and on the floor of Monkey Canyon — they were miraculously alive.
They quickly unbuckled their seat belts, crawled out of the vehicle, and checked each other for injuries or protruding objects but found nothing, just some small cuts and bruises.
“The first thing I said was, ‘This didn’t happen,'” Fields said. “I was in disbelief the whole time.”
It was around 2 pm, about 40 degrees outside, and the couple was hundreds of feet below the highway. They checked the car for their phones but they were gone. Luckily, Zelada quickly found Fields’ iPhone 14 about ten yards up the hill. It was shattered and — as they expected — had no reception.
“Anyone who goes up the Angeles Crest already knows there is no service up there. It’s very remote,” Fields said.
But a message had popped up on the phone anyway, saying a crash had been detected and to swipe to contact emergency services. Although the screen looked like the phone “took a bullet,” it was still in good enough shape to text, which Fields credited to her having a screen protector.
They started texting with the emergency services provider, explaining what had happened and saying they needed help. The person on the other end would instruct them to walk a certain way or hold their phone up in a certain direction, in order to help their messages and location information go through.
Within 30 minutes, they were airlifted out of the canyon.
The message that appeared on the iPhone was part of Apple’s new Emergency SOS via satellite feature, which has Crash Detection and Fall Detection software and uses satellites to contact emergency services when an iPhone is out of range. The feature connects the iPhone user to an emergency call center, which can collect information and notify rescue services.
The feature, which Fields did not even know was on the iPhone she had only recently gotten, was launched in mid-November. It’s currently on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro devices running iOS 16.1 or later and is available in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK.
Emergency SOS via satellite also allows users to share their location with friends and family if they’d like to check in while traveling off the grid. It’s also free for two years after an iPhone 14 is first activated, according to Apple.
“If we didn’t find my phone or no one knew we were down there, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Fields said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, patrol units, and air rescue all responded to the scene after being contacted by the emergency service center, LASD Sergeant John Gilbert said in a statement provided to Insider.
Fields said she was still shaken up and hyperventilating as the rescuers arrived on the scene, and one fireman tried to cheer her up by saying. “Smile, you’re alive.”
—SEB (@SEBLASD) December 14, 2022
Even as she was being lifted out of the canyon and up into a helicopter, her brain was still processing what had happened. And although she’s afraid of heights, all she remembered thinking was: “Thank God, we’re going, we’re leaving this.”
The couple was transported to a hospital and evaluated but were back at home with their dog later that night. They both had headaches and neck pain, and Zelada may have a concussion, but she said she was grateful they had made it through the ordeal relatively unscathed.
Fields said it will take more time for her to process what happened, but that the near-death experience reminded her that “life goes on.”
“The questions I’ve been thinking to myself are: What’s the reason why I’m still here? What was the purpose? What’s God’s purpose for me to keep on going?”
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