Family's 'absolute miracle' after Tesla plunges 75 metres over cliff
A 4-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy and two adults have miraculously survived after their car plunged off a Northern California cliff.
The family were in the self-driving car in the US state, travelling along the Pacific Coast Highway near an area known as Devil’s Slide when the near-death experience unfolded.
The Tesla sedan plummeted more than 76 metres from the highway and crashed into a rocky outcropping. It appears to have flipped a few times before landing on its wheels, wedged against the cliff just metres from the surf.
Crashes along Devil’s Slide, a steep, rocky and winding coastal area about 24 kilometres south of San Francisco, rarely end with survivors. On Monday (local time), the victims were initially listed in critical condition but all four were conscious and alert when rescuers arrived.
“We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle,” said Brian Brian Pottenger, a battalion chief for the Coastside Fire Protection District.
The California Highway Patrol does not believe, based on its initial investigation, that the Tesla was operating in Autopilot or Full Self-Driving mode at the time, police officer Mark Andrews said.
The road's conditions were also not believed to be a factor in the crash. There was no guardrail at the spot where the sedan went off the cliff.
“The car traveled off the main portion of the roadway. For what reason, we don’t know,” Mr Andrews said.
'Every one of us was shocked when we saw movement'
Witnesses called emergency services and the crews set up rope system from the highway to lower firefighters down the cliff. At the same time, other firefighters watching the sedan through binoculars suddenly noticed movement — a sign that at least one person was still alive.
“Every one of us was shocked when we saw movement out of the front windshield,” Mr Pottenger said.
The incident turned from what had been likely a recovery of bodies to a rescue operation that took several hours amid constant rain, heavy winds, slick roads and crashing waves. The doors were smashed against the cliff and jammed shut, so firefighters were forced to cut the victims out of the car using the so-called “jaws of life” tools.
Crews pulled the kids out of the back window and brought them up the cliff by hand in a rescue basket using the rope system. They were rushed to the hospital by ambulance with musculoskeletal injuries.
“They were more scared than they were hurt,” Mr Pottenger said.
The adults had traumatic injuries, however, and had to be hoisted up the cliff by a helicopter. They were then both flown to the hospital.
Officials are investigating what caused the Tesla to go off the highway in that spot.
“I don’t even like driving it,” Mr Pottenger said. “It’s definitely a treacherous stretch of California.”
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