But when Zelada found Fields’ shattered iPhone 14 the dirt, they learned they were saved already started. A new Apple feature had noticed the crash and alerted the emergency services.
About 40 minutes after believing their lives were over, Fields, 23, and Zelada, 24, were in a helicopter on the way to a hospital in Pasadena, California.
“We have times when we say, ‘Holy [crap], that was the size of a football field that we fell off,” Fields told The Washington Post. “But I don’t think it’s completely established for us.”
Fields and Zelada have often driven the Los Angeles County highway to view the surrounding Angeles National Forest. After meeting four years ago in a math class at Pasadena City College, the two had bonded over their love of the outdoors.
Fields, a freelance video editor, and Zelada, a Honda sales consultant, were off work on Dec. 13 and decided to ride their preferred route after enjoying breakfast bowls. As Zelada navigated the two-lane highway one sunny afternoon, a car honked its horn, hoping to pass them. But when he stopped in uneven gravel on the side of the road, the car lost traction. The new Hyundai spun 180 degrees before falling off the mountainside into the forest in Monkey Canyon, the couple said.
During the 15-second fall through trees, Fields said she hyperventilated as Zelada grabbed hold of the wheel and repeated, “We’re fine.” Both thought they would soon be dead. Zelada had heard stories of fatal falls from the road, but he never thought it was something that would happen to him.
“We had a one in a million chance of surviving,” Zelada said.
The two were still breathing when the nose of the upturned car hit the ground near a creek. A log blocked the door near the driver’s seat, Zelada said, so they both escaped through the passenger side. They had scratches on their faces, but no broken bones on initial inspection.
Seeking help, Zelada suggested a walk through the woods. Fields searched for a way to communicate – oblivious to the fact that her phone, which she had bought about two weeks earlier, was working.
When Zelada found Fields’ phone about 30 feet from the crash site, Fields said on her screen, “Looks like you’ve had an accident,” with the option to swipe to make an emergency call. Emergency SOS that can connect via satellite comes standard with the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, according to Apple’s website.
The technology enabled Fields to alert local emergency services. After send a helicopter from about 18 miles away, the rescue team found Fields and Zelada in half an hour later. Even as she was hoisted to safety, Fields said she struggled to stay calm until she heard the reassuring words of a firefighter who reminded her, “You’re alive.”
Sergeant John Gilbert, the coordinator of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Montrose search and rescue team, told The Post that Zelada and Fields were lucky.
“If we have vehicles going over the side, in that particular part of the roadway… we normally have a fatal accident,” he said.
Gilbert said his team had been alerted three times before by the new Apple feature, even though no rescuers were needed in the earlier cases, including an accidental activation and a routine car accident.
But Gilbert knew that the coordinates of Fields’ phone were in the canyon, which meant the phone’s owner was likely in danger. Without the warning of the phone, Gilbert said Fields and Zelada may have been stranded.
“It’s going to be a game changer,” said Gilbert. “There are many incidents where we are an hour to an hour and a half behind the original emergency before we are even notified.”
The helicopter flew Fields and Zelada to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, where they said X-rays and CT scans showed no major injuries. After waiting four hours, Zelada’s father drove the couple to their home in Glendale.
“We’re just thankful to live another day,” Fields said, “and continue to find our purpose.”