Big Pine, California
An elderly man survived on croissants, candy and biscotti for nearly a week alone in his car, stuck in a snowbank on a desolate California highway.
Jerry Jouret, 81, set out from his mountain house in Big Pine, California, on February 24 to return to his family home in Gardnerville, Nevada – just over three hours away in good driving conditions.
According to his grandson Christian, Jouret thought he could beat the impending snow storm. He was wrong.
During the drive, Jouret accidentally veered onto a smaller road and his SUV became stuck near Gilbert Pass, he told CNN.
Temperatures in the area dropped from the mid 30s into the teens overnight.
The mathematician and former NASA employee was ill-prepared for the weather, wearing only a light windbreaker, his grandson said. “He’s a pretty small,” Christian added. “He doesn’t have a whole lot of meat on his bones.”
A light quilt and a hotel bath towel were the only things Jouret had to keep himself warm, he said.
Described by his grandson as “a very smart man,” Jouret stayed with his car and conserved his vehicle’s gas and battery, only turning the SUV on periodically to warm up.
Roughly 3 feet of snow fell during the series of storms that pummeled the state over the course of the week. Many areas in California saw significant amounts of snow – an unusual occurrence for a state that’s unaccustomed to harsh winters. The dayslong brutal conditions knocked out power to thousands of homes, buried roads in snow and left many stranded, like Jouret.
Jouret survived by eating the few snacks he had in his car. He rolled down his window occasionally to eat snow.
Midway through the third day, Jouret’s car battery died while he was rolling the electric window back up, his grandson said. It remained open a few inches for the duration of his unfortunate adventure.
On February 28, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office received “a callout for a missing person,” the office said in a Facebook post.
Inyo County Search and Rescue teams planned search missions the next day, but were forced to delay due to safety concerns posed by the winter storm, according to a post from the sheriff’s office.
Then, on March 2, a cell phone ping identified by a California Highway Patrol team helped narrow the search area and once weather allowed, helicopter crews were deployed.
As one team headed to refuel the aircraft, the pilot spotted something he initially thought was a large rock. A closer look revealed a vehicle – and the pilot spotted an arm waving out of the small opening in the car window.
“Within a short period of time, they identified a vehicle partially buried in snow,” the sheriff’s office said. “The CHP crew loaded the person onboard and transported him directly to Bishop Airport for transport to medical care…The subject was discharged from the hospital later that evening.”
Jouret was only in the hospital for a few hours and showed no signs of hypothermia, his grandson said. “The nurses were in shock at how well his vitals were,” said the younger Jouret.
After leaving the hospital, Jouret was returned to his house in Big Pine. He then had to take a bus home to his wife Gardnerville as the couple’s SUV remains stuck in the snow.
Jouret told CNN he is recovering well, but says he remains traumatized by the ordeal.
Christian Jouret hopes his grandfather’s miraculous rescue serves as a warning to others about just how dangerous winter travel can be, especially when it’s not something you are used to.
Above all: “If someone gets trapped, don’t give up hope,” said Christian. “Some of us thought he was a goner. Never give up hoping. The human body is amazing for what it can endure.”
The Inyo County Search and Rescue reminded drivers to be prepared in winter weather conditions.
“If it is snowing, make sure you are prepared, don’t pass road closures and bring extra supplies with you. Or don’t travel at all and wait until roads and weather clear up,” the organization said in a Facebook post.