OAKLAND -- A 53-year-old El Cerrito man defied the odds of survival by enduring more than three days trapped in his car after falling 150 feet down an embankment in the Oakland hills. The man, James Wright, was rescued Friday after the silver Honda Civic, glimmering in the sun, was spotted by an East Bay Regional Park District ranger.
Wright, who apparently survived without food or water during his ordeal, was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland. His family reported him missing to El Cerrito police on Monday about 6 p.m. They said he took his car out about 8:30 a.m. that day and never returned.
He was not found until 10:37 a.m. Friday morning after park district Ranger Dave Flores, 29, saw the sun reflected off a silver car down an embankment while he was driving on Grizzly Peak Boulevard between Centennial Drive and South Park Drive with another park district employee. They radioed for assistance, and Flores scrambled down to the car, which was at least 150 feet down the embankment.
Flores said he has seen other cars that have fallen down the steep embankments along Grizzly Peak in the past, and in those cases the cars were either empty or the people inside were dead.
"That's why it was such a shock to see someone alive in there," Flores said. "He was fully conscious. He was wide awake. He was real happy to see someone. He said he hadn't eaten or drank anything in three days."
Flores said Wright's car went off the roadway after he suffered some kind of medical incident. He stayed with Wright until East Bay Regional Park District firefighters arrived and extricated him from the car. Park district and Oakland firefighters brought Wright back up to the roadway, where he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Firefighters said he was disoriented and showed obvious signs of trauma.
Flores, who has worked for the district for eight years at Tilden Regional Park, downplayed what some people called a heroic act. Flores said he just did what he does every day, driving along the road and looking around.
"In the sense the guy is going to be OK, I'm ecstatic," he said.
Wright's condition was unknown as of Friday evening. He did not have a cellphone, but even if he had one, the reception in the area is known to be weak.
People can survive without food for weeks, but "three days without water is really pushing it," said Thomas Coyne of the Survival Training School of California. The best way to find water, he said, is to find a high point and look for lines and circles of green plant life, which indicates water is nearby. But Coyne advised seeking shade during the day and limiting physical exertion to the early morning and later afternoon.
He also suggested keeping a first-aid kit, a blanket, water and food such as protein bars -- anything that is nonperishable, ready-to-eat and high in nutrients -- in the trunk of the car.
"A little preparedness goes a long way," he said.