A 19-year-old survived a car crash by clinging onto a tree for 12 hours in a freezing creek after her best friend died in the wreckage.

Natalie Griffin was in the passenger seat with her best friend Jenna Santos behind the wheel when the car hydroplaned off the embankment of Highway 101 and crashed into Outlet Creek in Mendocino County, California on Wednesday night. 

Water quickly rushed into the car, and the two worked together to kick the windshield when Griffin noticed a broken rear window and told Santos to follow her on the way out.

She emerged with no sign of her best friend and endured another 12 hours in a winter storm before she swam across the fast-flowing creek to get help. 

Natalie Griffin (right) survived a car crash by clinging onto a tree for 12 hours in a freezing creek after her best friend Jenna Santos (left) died in the wreckage

Santos (pictured) was driving home from Humboldt County to Castro Valley in California when the car hydroplaned, flipped several times and crashed in a creek

The two college students had spent a few days hiking and visiting friends in Humboldt County, where Santos went to school, when they embarked on their journey 300 miles south.

They were about 135 miles into their trip home to Castro Valley when the 2004 Toyota Corolla hydroplaned off the highway around 7.30pm on Wednesday.

The car flipped several times before crashing into the fast-flowing creek below, according to the California Highway Patrol.

As water began filling the car, the two friends tried desperately to kick the windshield out.

The situation was growing increasingly desperate when Griffin noticed they could escape through a broken rear window.

She told Santos to follow her lead, but Griffin emerged from the water with Santos was nowhere to be found, the survivor’s cousin Monica Keyser told the East Bay Times.

As water began filling the car, the two friends worked together to try to kick the windshield out. Griffin (left) told her friend to follow her out a broken rear window, but Santos (right) never made it out

Griffin, described by her cousin as a ‘runner and yogi’ who also practices meditation, managed to stay calm during the ensuing ordeal, Keyser said. 

She grabbed onto a partially submerged tree about 100 yards from shore and held onto the branches above the flowing water for 12 hours, Keyser said.  

She used her jacket to shield herself from the wind and rain and did stretches to keep herself warm as temperatures fell to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, Keyser said.

She stayed awake throughout the night and tried to scream at cars as they passed overhead, Keyser said.

Griffin eventually started hallucinating and heard her best friend telling her she would be okay, Keyser said.

When day broke, Griffin swam across the creek and climbed a hill full of thorny bushes in order to make her way back to the highway. 

A driver realized she was soaking wet and had only one shoe, and managed to call her mother before she collapsed at around 8.19am Thursday.

Griffin was taken to the Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital, where she was treated with hypothermia before she was released later that day.

She told authorities where to recover her best friend’s body, and a member of the Little Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s water rescue team found the submerged Corolla with Santos inside.  

Griffin’s mother Midge Griffin (right, with her daughter) expressed her condolences to Santos’ family, and celebrated her daughter’s ‘courage, strength, and the remarkable wit’

Griffins’ cousin Monica Keyser also set up a GoFundMe page to help cover Santos’ funeral expenses. She posted this photo of her holding Griffins’ hand after the crash

Griffin’s mother Midge Griffin, wrote on Facebook: ‘Our hearts ache for Jenna.’

But she celebrated her daughter’s incredible survival story, and credited the 19-year-old for ‘finding the courage, strength, and the remarkable wit to find a way to live!’

She also wrote: ‘Natalie is scratched, bruised, and stitched up. There are many moments of sadness for her reliving the horrific accident and losing beautiful Jenna.’ 

Keyser, who set up a GoFundMe page to help cover Santos’ funeral expenses, said: ‘Thank you god for giving my sweet beautiful cousin the strength to survive. 

‘My heart has been so heavy today knowing her best friend Jenna is now watching over her…. But I know that it was with Jenna’s strength and comfort that Nat was able to make it to the road this morning and for that we are all so very thankful.

‘ There is no doubt that the days, weeks, and months to come will bring so many emotions for her and all of us. 

‘But for now we are just very thankful and our hearts are with Jenna and her family. 

‘Natalie is home and with her family who are supporting and caring for her during this difficult time.’

Santos was a cheerleader at Castro Valley High School before she graduated in 2015 and went on to attend Humboldt State University, where she hoped to become a psychiatrist.  




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