No, the Woman Stranded After Driving Her Jeep Off a Cliff Didn't Survive by Drinking from the Radiator

Illustration for article titled No, the Woman Stranded After Driving Her Jeep Off a Cliff Didn't Survive by Drinking from the Radiator
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.

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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).

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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).

Sr. Tech Editor, Jalopnik. Owner of far too many Jeeps (Including a Jeep Comanche). Follow my instagram (@davidntracy). Always interested in hearing from engineers—email me.

DISCUSSION

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I hope people didn’t read those headlines and think it’s somehow any bit safe to drink fluids from your radiator. I doubt they would have found her alive had she done that. Vast majority of vehicles on the road will have a mix.

It would be very sad if someone found themselves stranded near their car for a few days, and remembered hearing of this and tried it as a means of survival. It shows how little most people know about cars to A.) mistakenly report this in the first place and then B.) other orgs pick it up and run with it.

David - you’ve worked on enough cars/Jeeps/Jalopies to no doubt have inadvertently had the misfortune of imbibing coolant during a repair, and you’ve probably read the labels/warnings on the bottle as you waited for air bubbles to rise when refilling.  That’s why you were able to call it out!  Thanks for helping to set the record straight on this one!

While we are on the subject -BEWARE of this stuff around pets. A small amount of ethelyne glycol ingested by a pet can kill them. And it has a sweet smell that can attract them. Thats just one more reason why cleaning up coolant messes is very important.