- By Madeline Halpert
- BBC News, New York
Christian Juri had given up hope that his grandfather, Jerry, the man who had raised him, was still alive.
It’s been nearly a week since the 81-year-old left his mountain home in Big Pine, California, to go back to his wife in Nevada, but he hasn’t arrived.
Finally, after six days, the former NASA employee was rescued from the snow, and survived by eating a cookie and some croissants.
“It was all just a miracle,” his grandson told the BBC.
“It was hard for us to think that a man could do so much with his life, create such a legacy, and then get stuck in his car and die of hypothermia.”
After being hit by the winter storms that hit California this month, Jerry Gouret dropped 3 feet (90 centimeters) of snow in the northern part of the state where his car was parked.
At least 13 deaths were reported in the state amid the storms. Authorities say only one person can be definitively linked to the weather, while eight others likely to be linked to the cold snap are being investigated.
On February 24, Jerry was driving 30 minutes after leaving Big Pine on what should have been a four-hour drive home to his family in Nevada, when he accidentally ended up on a smaller road and his SUV got stuck in a snowdrift.
But the 81-year-old did not panic. Instead, his grandson said, he applied what he learned from the many episodes of the reality TV show Survivor that he watched with his wife, Sharon.
Jerry – who was wearing only a light windbreaker – warmed himself up with a fluffy comforter and a hotel bath towel he found in the car.
The mathematician was able to maintain the car’s battery for three and a half days by turning off the car periodically.
To get water he would run through the window to eat snow, and to get food he would resort to the few snacks left in the car.
“He lived on ice cream, croissants and biscotti,” said his grandson.
Things got worse when Jerry’s car battery died while he was rolling up the car window. It happened two days before he was rescued, leaving him even more vulnerable when overnight temperatures dropped below freezing.
His rescue was delayed by bad weather, and as the days went by, frantic family members realized it was a race against time.
“I imagine there was a great fear that this would be the end of his life,” Christian said.
On March 9, six days later, helicopters finally came to Jerry’s rescue — though they almost missed because the pilots almost ran out of fuel and someone thought the car was a rock, his grandson said.
They carry Jerry to the helicopter and take him to the hospital.
There, the nurses were surprised that her vital signs were completely normal, with no signs of hypothermia. Christian said his grandfather “yells at him” on the phone.
He said: “He is not a very sentimental man, but I imagine he was humble.”
“I cried a lot myself. I didn’t realize how much we took these things for granted.”
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said the helicopter found the vehicle after a cell phone signal was detected in an area along Death Valley Road.
“When the crew approached for inspection, the window was toppled and someone started waving from inside the vehicle,” their press release read.