A family rejoiced upon finding their father alive at the bottom of a 200-foot ravine, six days after he'd driven his car off a winding road.
But there was a sad side to the story. Another car was found in the ravine, and the driver was dead.
The identity of the driver has been revealed as Melvin Gelfand, an 88-year-old World War II veteran who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. He left his west Los Angeles home on September 14th and never returned. His daughter, Joan Matlack, was baffled.
"It just became surreal. Where could he be?" she says.
That question was answered when the search party looking for David LaVau came upon two cars at the bottom of the ravine.
They were stunned to learn their dad had stayed alive by drinking water from a stream and eating leaves and bugs, and equally stunned to find Melvin Gelfand's body in the other car. LaVau's granddaughter called 911 to notify police.
Caller: "My Grandpa's been missing as of Friday last week. He's at the bottom of a cliff. One of the cars' passengers is actually dead and he's the only one alive out of the two car accidents."
911 Operator: "So the car is at the bottom of the cliff?"
Caller: "Two of them. One of them has a dead passenger."
Gelfand's destination had been a casino in San Diego, but he took a wrong turn and drove 70 miles the wrong way before plunging his silver car off a road without a guardrail in California's Angeles National Forest.
The accident happened on September 14th. When the search party found David LaVau on the 29th, Gelfand had been in the ravine for two weeks.
Matlack says, "The last two weeks have been horrible. We've all been beside ourselves, not knowing what, where, why, anything, no clues, no nothing!"
Gelfand's family had put up "Missing" posters and hired private detective Robert Jacks to help in the search:
"It's probably the strangest, most bizarre case I've ever worked," Jacks says.
The dead man's daughter still has trouble believing the remarkable way her dad's disappearance was finally solved.
"There's another car inches away which happens to be my father's – it just blows us away, how could this be?" she says.
Melvin Gelfand's family wants to get the message out that elderly drivers should always carry cell phones so they can easily be traced. They are also asking officials to put up a guardrail along that stretch of road.