Woman survives 12 hours in frigid weather after friend's car plunges into creek

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A car that plummeted into a California creek last week left a woman stranded on a tree for 12 hours in the frigid wilderness and another woman dead.

The East Bay Times reported Friday that Natalie Griffin was still recovering from Wednesday’s accident that left Jenna Santos dead. The two were in a car accident off a Mendocino County highway, which left Santos dead and Griffin holding on for dear life before she swam to shore to get help.

The pair was on the way home from visiting friends in Humboldt County, where Santos attended Humboldt State University. They were traveling on Highway 101 in the middle of a storm when their vehicle hydroplaned and went over an embankment, flipping several times, before crashing into Outlet Creek.

The girls attempted to kick out the front windshield, but it made things worse. Monica Keyser, Santos’ cousin, told the paper that the girls noticed the back window was broken. Griffin told Santos to follow her out that way, but she wasn’t sure if her fellow high school classmate followed her out.

Griffin told PEOPLE Magazine that the strong current kept her from reaching Santos.

“That was one of the scariest parts, I thought it was a nightmare, I was so in shock that my friend was in the car, dead,” she said. “I really thought this was a bad dream.”

Griffin was carried down the fast-moving creek and managed to grab into a partially submerged tree and then onto the branches. She hung onto the branches until the next morning. Griffin is a yoga enthusiast and was able to stay warm by doing stretches.

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The 19-year-old was able to make it up a steep hill and wave down a motorist for help. Authorities arrived on the scene at around 8:19 a.m. Thursday and Griffin was hospitalized with hypothermia and a few minor scratches.

Authorities pulled the submerged 2004 Toyota Corolla out of the creek. Santos never made it out.

“It’s hard to rejoice in Natalie being alive when everyone is grieving the loss of Jenna,” Keyser said. “The story is surreal, I can’t imagine anyone else being as strong as her through the night. It’s definitely heroic. I’m so thankful she’s alive. She was so brave.”

Authorities were still investigating the crash.

A GoFundMe account was setup to help pay for Santos’ funeral expenses.

Click for more from the East Bay Times.