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The San Gabriel Mountains: 3 Incredible Stories of Survival

A young victim of a plane crash, a snowboarder lost for days and a teacher with a heart condition huddled in a gulch—only two survive.

The fragile human body may be a sheer contrast to the rugged landscape of the San Gabriel Mountains, and when the two collide with each other the consequences aren’t always pleasant. However, amongst tales of tragedy are some accounts that stand as testaments to the human spirit of determination.

Three such tales, one of an 11-year-old plane crash survivor, a snowboarder lost for days and a teacher fighting to survive, are shining examples of such human strengths.

A Father’s Lessons

It was 1979 when a famished 11-year-old boy found his way out of the mountains as the lone survivor of single engine Cessna crash that claimed two lives upon impact—his father Norman Ollestad Sr.’s and the pilot, Bob Arnold of Mar Vista. A third passenger, Sandra Cressman his father's girlfreind, died later from injuries attained while she tried to make it off the mountain.

Covered with cuts, bruises and with a broken hand, Noreman Ollestad Jr. of Malibu made his way through the snow covered mountain peaks of the San Gabriels.

The boy managed to find his way down the mountain to a creek and followed the water until he reached a house and called for help, according to a 1979 article in the St. Petersburg Times. Ollestad Jr. told news reporters (SEE ATTACHED VIDEO) that he lived through the ordeal because his father taught him to “never give up.”  

As an adult, Olstead Jr. has chronicled his life and death experience, and the lessons he learned from his father in a book entitled Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival. In the book, Olstead Jr. explains how the life lessons he learned growing up in Topanga Beach and from his father, an avid surfer and skier, helped him survive his battle with the wilderness.

A Few Extra Pounds

By the time rescue personnel found Paul Snow he was 41 pounds lighter, and it was the extra weight that may have saved his life.

The church leader had huddled in a granite mountain gulch for a week after he went missing in May of 1970. Authorities told reporters that the 50-year-old may have become lost as he lagged behind his 10-member Church youth group because of his heart condition.

Friends said that Snow was a “very inexperienced hiker” who was in such bad shape he would get “completely exhausted after a Ping-Pong game,” reported the Modesto-Bee.  

The fact that he even survived without food or the ability to make a fire was miraculous. Besides his weight, another reason credited for his survival was a nearby creek that provided him with water, according to the Modesto-Bee.  Snow used a gulch for shelter and a nearby bush for his bedding.

Lost in the Snow

When 14-year-old Jeff Thornton walked out of the snow six days after he became lost in the San Gabriel Mountains in February of 1998, it seemed like a miracle. However, when he died eight days later in the hospital, it shocked everyone.

Thornton had gone on a snowboarding trip at Mountain High Ski Resort near Wrightwood, and while coming down the slope with his uncle he disappeared. According to the Star News, a storm the previous day had made conditions foggy during descent.

As authorities searched for Thornton during the course of a few days, three feet of snow fell across the mountains. When Thornton was eventually found, he was confused, had an eye injury and had frostbite on both of his arms, legs and hands. Authorities told the Press-Telegram that Thornton survived because he found a creek for water. 

Hospital officials at the time told the Associated Press that Thornton was expected to be out of the hospital in a week and had suffered no permanent injuries. Sadly, the boy’s wounds became infected and subsequent complications led to a cardiac arrest eight days after his rescue, causing his death.

If the above stories illustrate anything, it is the unpredictability of an emergency situation, the need for water and most importantly, the human drive for  As Ollestad Jr.’s father taught him, never give up—especially if lost in the harsh wilderness of the San Gabriele Mountains.

yeahian March 05, 2012 at 06:06 AM
and stay out of hospitals.

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