How sleuth family found missing dad in ravine

Surrounded by family in the hospital, 67-year-old David Lavau survived after his car plunged off a mountain road and into a ravine. He was stranded for six days and lived on water, leaves and bugs. CBS News

A California man is in the hospital Friday night after being stranded for six days when his car plunged off a lonely mountain road. He's lucky to be alive and he is. As CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reported, it was all because of his family and their detective work

Plucked from a deep ravine in the middle of the night, a helicopter rescue of 67-year-old David Lavau was harrowing -- but nothing compared to the ordeal he'd just endured, said son-in-law, Jesse Hooker.

"It's a miracle that he's alive today," Hooker said.

A week ago, Lavau was driving on a twisting mountain road north of L.A. at night. Blinded by oncoming lights, he missed a hairpin curve and plunged 500 feet down the embankment. His car came to rest inches from another car, which apparently had missed the same curve some time ago. The driver of that car was dead.

Man whose car plunged off cliff found by family

"My dad had to sit there every night next to this guy in his car knowing that could have been him," said Lavau's other son Sean.

When the family hadn't heard from Lavau, they filed a missing person report. But they didn't stop there. They became amateur sleuths. Twelve-year-old Caitlyn hacked his Facebook page, then his cellphone for recent contacts. A sympathetic banker helped trace credit card purchases, which lead to a grocery store, where he was last seen.

Daughter Lisa said they started scouring nearby mountain roads. "We stopped at every ravine and looked over every hill. My brother got out of the car and we kept screaming and the next thing we heard dad say, 'Help, help!' And there he was."

With fractured ribs, a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder, Lavau couldn't climb out. He survived on leaves and bugs and water from a creek.

"It wasn't just law enforcement," said son Sean. "It was real people like us -- it was a banker, it was a grocery clerk -- that pulled all this stuff together."

The Associated Press reported that the other vehicle pulled out from the ravine with belonged to an 88-year-old man who went missing for two weeks, according to a Los Angeles police detective. Detective Marla Ciuffetelli said the license plate from that vehicle corresponded with that of a Toyota Camry belonging to Melvin Gelfand. He was last seen Sept. 14 at his Los Angeles home.

Lavau's kids say they're on a campaign to place guardrails at this curve.

  • Bill Whitaker

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