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Big Sur hikers were looking for a fishing spot. Instead, they saved a woman’s life

The wreck of Angela Hernandez's white 2011 Jeep Patriot rests in the water line Friday on a rocky Big Sur beach.
The wreck of Angela Hernandez's white 2011 Jeep Patriot rests in the water line Friday on a rocky Big Sur beach.

A fortuitous birthday camping trip to Big Sur placed a Morro Bay couple in the right place at the right time Friday to save the life of an Oregon woman who survived seven days on a rocky beach after her car plunged over a 250-foot cliff.

Chad and Chelsea Moore travel to Big Sur about every other month, they said, usually to camp at Plaskett Creek Campground on Highway 1. On this trip, however, they decided to try Kirk Creek Campground for the first time instead, Chelsea said.

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After checking out the surf on Friday evening, they went searching for a spot to fish the next day, Chad said.

“We broke the rules and went trespassing. We found a secret spot where you could get down the cliff and that’s what we did. We scurried down the cliff,” Chad said.

A battered Jeep

As the couple walked alone on the rocky beach, they came across the wreckage of a white Jeep.

“I was expecting to find dead bodies,” Chad Moore said. “We were just shocked, looking at this Jeep that was just sitting in the boulders. We thought someone lost their life here very recently.”

Chelsea Moore said they walked for about a half hour before finding the Jeep and hadn’t seen anyone or anything else the whole time.

“I was like, ‘This must be old news,’” she said. “It definitely doesn’t look like anyone survived.”

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Chelsea Moore took this selfie of her and husband Chad Moore after they found the wreckage of Angela Hernandez's Jeep and just before they found Hernandez. Chad is carrying a poster they found in the vehicle. Courtesy of Chelsea Moore

The couple, who were in shock at the discovery, gathered some things from the car to take back and report to authorities, including a poster and an Americorps medal, Chad said.

The Moores began to walk back the way they had come when suddenly Chelsea heard something over the sound of the surf.

A cry for help

“I said, ‘Chad, did you hear that?’ and then we both heard it,” she said. “We looked and she was getting to her feet, standing in the rocks.”

“She was crying out for help with whatever voice she had left,” Chad said. “She was standing in the rocks and trying to wave to us, and we could barely hear her over the waves breaking.”

The person in the rocks was Angela Hernandez, an Oregon woman who had been missing for a week after her Jeep went over a cliff on Highway 1 on July 6.

“We need to save this person and get her off the beach,” Chad Moore said, adding that her clothes were in “threads,” and she was sunburned and injured. He said that she was very dehydrated and told them her ribs and shoulder hurt.

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Angela Hernandez sits with Morro Bay resident Chelsea Moore after she was found at the bottom of a Monterey County cliff in July. Courtesy photo

The couple decided that Chelsea would run back up to the campground to call for help while Chad stayed on the beach with Angela.

“She’s super funny, great personality, able to laugh about the whole event,” he said. He gave her the Americorps medal, the poster and some of the other items they took from the crash site.

“It’s an absolute miracle she survived the carnage,” Chad said. “It was a terrible accident.”

Getting help

Back up at the campground, Chelsea Moore said a woman heard her on the phone with responders and showed her the missing persons flier for Hernandez. Chelsea said that until then, they hadn’t known anyone was missing.

Chelsea also said that dispatchers told her to stay there and wait for responders to arrive, but she couldn’t.

“As soon as I knew how long she was down there, I realized she was probably hungry and probably cold. It just made it a lot more serious; she’s been surviving with nothing for a whole week. There’s no way I’m going to sit there for 45 minutes.”

A bystander said they’d wait for authorities to arrive, so Chelsea hopped into action, gathering supplies like blankets and snacks before running back to Angela and Chad.

“I felt panic and hope and a little bit of praying and mostly adrenaline,” Chelsea said.

The couple stayed with Hernandez until first responders arrived and took her to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with a brain hemorrhage, broken ribs and a collapsed lung, among other injuries.

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The Moores then continued camping for the rest of the weekend, which gave them time to process and talk about the rescue, Chelsea said.

“It’s a miracle she happened to see us walking by. There were no footprints on that beach. We were the only people there,” Chad said. “She just happened to look over and see us.”

A reunion call

The couple said they spoke to Hernandez and her sister on the phone Sunday night.

“She joked —maybe — she was going to name her kids after us. She’s just so happy,” Chad said. “I haven’t met her sister yet, but it sounds like that family really loves each other and she couldn’t be happier to be home.”

Chelsea said they’re still processing what happened and haven’t slept much. Chad said that they’re still in shock.

“Whenever we close our eyes, we see her and we think about her,” he said. “She’s forever going to be someone who impacted our lives in a positive way.”

“We’re so happy and blown away that we found there, that we were at that beach at that time and she happened to look up while we were walking by,” Chelsea said.

“We’re so proud of her. She’s our hero.”

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858

Drone footage shows a birds-eye view of the Highway 1 construction across the Mud Creek Slide on the Big Sur Coast in California. Caltrans announced on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, that they expect to open the road by near the end of July.

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