Photo: Associated Press (Chelsea Moore)

On July 6, a 23-year-old woman in California crashed her Jeep Patriot off a roughly 250 foot cliff near Big Sur, and wound up stranded for a week at the base, just along the shore. To avoid dehydration, the California Highway Patrol apparently stated, the woman drank from her car’s radiator. It’s a good story, and one that garnered a ton of headlines, except the radiator part is just not true.

A number of news outlets reported this week that Angela Hernandez, a woman from Oregon who wound up stranded at the base of a huge cliff after swerving for a small animal on California’s Highway 1, avoided dehydration by drinking from her 2011 Jeep Patriot’s radiator for a week.

“California Cliff Crash Survivor Spent A Week Drinking Car’s Radiator Water,” The Guardian wrote four days ago. “Woman survives seven days on radiator water after California cliff crash,” was Reuters’ headline. Both sites cited the California Highway Patrol.

But I—along with a Jalopnik reader named Mary, who initially sent me the story–wasn’t buying this, so I called up the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, and left them a voicemail to ask if Hernandez really drank out of her radiator, which presumably was filled with toxic coolant.

(It’s not likely such a new car’s cooling system had only water in it, especially since that can cause corrosion, boiling or even freezing/cracking).

Advertisement

As I’ve written before, ethylene glycol-based antifreeze isn’t something you want to put in your body, so this was a fact that I absolutely needed to get straight. Per Prestone’s material safety data sheet:

Ingestion may cause abdominal discomfort or pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, malaise, blurring of vision, irritability, back pain, decrease in urine output, kidney failure, and central nervous system effects.

Advertisement

The police never did get back to me. But now it appears that the CHP has retracted its statement, and a number of websites have changed their headlines. “Woman survives seven days on spring water after California cliff crash,” is Reuters’ updated headline. “California cliff crash survivor spent a week drinking water using car’s radiator hose” is The Guardian’s.

Here’s Reuters’ correction:

This July 14 story was corrected to reflect California Highway Patrol retraction of statement that Hernandez said she drank engine radiator water. CHP says Hernandez used a radiator hose to drink water from a spring.

Advertisement

Now, this doesn’t in any way diminish Hernandez’s survival story. What she did is amazing, and she’s lucky to be alive, and as ever the first responders here should be commended for eventually saving her. But please don’t go thinking you can drinking from a radiator, because you can’t.

You can read more about Hernandez’s horrible seven-day ordeal on her Facebook page, where she wrote on Sunday about the moments immediately following the crash off the 250 foot cliff :

The only thing I really remember after that was waking up. I was still in my car and I could feel water rising over my knees. My head hurt and when I touched it, I found blood on my hands. My car’s power was off by now and every window was closed. Everything kind of happens fast here.

I took off my seatbelt and found a multi-tool I kept near my front seat. I started hitting the driver-side window with it. Every bone in my body hurt. 

Advertisement

Eventually, she broke out of her partially-submerged car and swam to shore, where she waited for days until hikers spotted her and got her help.

Here’s the bit about using a hose to stay hydrated:

I found a 10-inch black hose that seemed to have fallen off of my vehicle during the crash. It fit perfectly in the front pocket of my sweater, so I kept it there. I walked farther south down the beach than I ever had before and heard a dripping sound. I looked up and saw a huge patch of moss with water dripping down from it. I caught the water in my hands and tasted it. It was fresh!!!! I collected as much as I could in my little hose and drank from it for maybe an hour.

I figured I’d clear that up, lest someone find themselves waterless and near a car with a full radiator. Don’t drink it! (Unless, for some strange reason, you’re actually using water in your engine).