Miracle Baby Lone Survivor of Car Crash Off Big Sur
All Baby Tania has left of the last, doomed trip she took with her parents is a straw crucifix that apparently fell out of their car as it plunged 450 feet down a cliff on the California coast.
The 16-month-old’s rescuer gave her the cross when he realized she was the lone survivor of last Sunday’s crash.
“She ignored it at first,” said Toby Rowland-Jones, “but then she clutched on to it. When she got in the helicopter, she was still clutching it.”
It was a beautiful day for the cliff-hugging drive up Highway 1 through Big Sur. Tania and her parents, Berenice and Marcial Isidra, were following Berenice’s sister, heading north for Salinas.
But somewhere south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Columba Carrasco realized her sister’s family was no longer behind her.
There was no clue the car had swerved across the roadway and tumbled more than halfway down a 750-foot cliff, landing upside down against a boulder above the surf.
Tania’s parents were flung from the 1988 Hyundai sedan and killed. Tania, strapped into an infant car seat, was trapped in the flattened wreckage.
Columba Carrasco and her husband, Ignacio, pulled over and waited for the car to emerge from the road’s hairpin curves. The sisters were close; they shared a home in Grover Beach, an oceanfront town of about 11,000 some 13 miles south of San Luis Obispo.
“She was really worried, she felt something was wrong,” Ignacio Carrasco said of his wife. “I thought they were maybe ahead of us.”
There were no obvious signs of a mishap, no skid marks, no broken railing that would have told the Carrascos what happened when they turned around and drove back a few miles, police said.
The Carrascos went ahead to an aunt’s house in Salinas, hoping to find the missing family there. When no call came, they decided to head home early and retraced their route down Highway 1.
Just north of Grimes Point they came upon police and rescue workers who had stopped traffic.
“I asked them what was wrong,” Carrasco said. “They said six hours ago, a car went off the cliff. When they told me, I knew it was them.”
Rowland-Jones and Paul Johnson had rappelled down the cliff face after a Big Sur resident noticed the car.
They found Isidra’s body between the road and the flattened car. At the crash scene, Johnson hunted for other victims while Rowland-Jones checked inside the vehicle, expecting to find another corpse.
Peering inside, he found his face inches from a silent little girl who had been hanging upside down from the straps of her car seat for about five hours.
“When she looked at me, she started crying,” Rowland-Jones said.
It took about 20 minutes for the two men to pry open the car enough to reach the child, who was frightened but unharmed except for a cut around one eye.
“She was really wedged in there,” Rowland-Jones said. “It is an absolute miracle that she was still alive.”
California Highway Patrol investigators think Marcial Isidra drifted onto the shoulder, tried to turn the wheel back and over-corrected, crossing the oncoming lane and going over the side of the cliff. With no witnesses, police said it is unlikely they will ever know for sure.
Columba Carrasco said she and her husband hope to raise Tania with her cousins.
“We are going to talk to the rest of the family and tell them we want to keep her like our own child,” she said.