David Lavau: Surviving Horrific Cliff Crash Brought Family Back Together

David Lavau survived on leaves and insects before his children found him.

ByABC News
November 24, 2011, 1:56 PM

Nov. 25, 2011— -- David Lavau was driving down a desolate stretch of narrow California mountain road when he saw two bright lights coming towards him and he swerved.

"I'm flying, there's no more road," he said.

Lavau's car plunged 200 feet down the side of the mountain into a ravine, 50 miles north of Los Angeles. Trapped and injured at the bottom of a steep canyon, the 68-year-old remained hopeful, as he waited, certain that a helicopter would come rescue him.

But no one did. In fact, no one knew he was missing. As he crawled from his crushed vehicle, he made another gruesome discovery. There was a second wrecked car only inches from him.

"My heart stopped. There was a man in there," Lavau said.

But the man in the other car was dead and it looked like he had been there for a while. It was then that Lavau said he realized he was really alone. Afraid, he began thinking about his life and his family, and how he wished things had been different.

"My children weren't all together," he recalled. "They weren't where I wanted them to be as a family, working together, and I wanted that one last wish."

Lavau's crashed occurred on Sept. 23. It would be another five days before Lavau's children realized their father was missing. Putting all family differences aside, they set off to find their dad together. They hacked into his voicemail and Facebook page for clues. A break in the case came when police traced Lavau's cell phone.

"Once we got the clarification of the pinging of the towers, my husband and I, we were just like, 'POW,' we were just mounted up," said Lavau's daughter, Chardonnay Hooker.

Meanwhile, Lavau had begun to give up. He survived on eating leaves, black ants and bumble bees, and drinking dirty creek water. He left his family one final message on his demolished car.

"I scratched on the car, that the accident, that the dead guy wasn't my fault and 'I love you, kids,'" he said.

Lavau said he then laid down, closed his eyes, and said a prayer.

"I said, you know, I can't go anymore, this is it," he said.

That's when Lavau said he heard his son Sean's voice in the distance yelling, "Hello, anybody down there?"

"So I yelled back up the hill, you know, 'Help! I'm down here by the water," Lavau said.

His son Sean had found the accident scene in the canyon on Sept. 29 and heard his father's voice. He shouted that he was coming and with two others, tumbled down the steep mountain side and rushed to their father.

"He smelled so bad, but I still held him and I just held him and held him and just both cried and cried and cried," Sean Lavau said.

After being in the canyon for seven long days, finally the rescue helicopter came.

"They said, 'What can I give you, anything we can do for you?'" Lavau said. "I said, 'I'd sure like a chocolate malt."

Lavau suffered broken vertebrae and ribs, and fractured his arm in three spots. He required two surgeries, and six weeks of recovery, but surprisingly, he said he wouldn't change what happened because it helped bring his family back together.

On this Thanksgiving, Lavau doesn't call surviving the wreck a miracle, only a second chance.

"I've never said this before, but I could say, and that was in my prayer when I was down there, for more time, and I got it," he said.