Girl survives for nine days in canyon after car crash

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The Independent US

A six-year-old Californian girl survived for nine days on juice and dried noodle soup after a car accident killed her mother and left her trapped at the bottom of a rocky desert canyon, rescue workers said yesterday.

A six-year-old Californian girl survived for nine days on juice and dried noodle soup after a car accident killed her mother and left her trapped at the bottom of a rocky desert canyon, rescue workers said yesterday.

Ruby Bustamante was said to be slightly dehydrated but otherwise in fine physical shape after her ordeal.

She was discovered after a highway construction crew started working to repair the bent end of a guard rail. They did not realise until later that it was the crashed car, barely visible at the bottom of the canyon, which had bent the rail.

Ralph Merino, a crew member, told reporters how he scrambled down the escarpment after seeing movement near the green Ford Taurus 130ft below the road.

"It was the little girl," he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper. "She was right next to her mother and her mother was dead. She put her arms out to me.I asked her if she was all right and she was hungry and thirsty. She didn't know how long she'd been down there."

Ruby and her mother Norma, 26, were reported missing last week after they set off from their home near Palm Springs to visit Norma's boyfriend in a detention centre in the Los Angeles suburbs.

Their car left the road as they negotiated a stretch of rocky desert terrain just outside the LA metropolitan area where the highway is reduced to four lanes and twists precipitously. The speedometer was found locked at 83mph. Their car hit the central reservation, ricocheted and plunged into the ravine.

Rescue workers believe that the mother initially survived and dragged herself and her daughter out of the vehicle. They found shoes, packages of noodle soup and Gatorade drink containers neatly arranged near the wrecked car, suggesting an adult had planned a survival strategy.

It is not known how long Norma Bustamante survived. Mr Merino said he found her lying face up and that her body was beginning to decompose. Ruby was apparently unaware that her mother had died.

Relatives of the Bustamantes expressed anger that the authorities had not discovered the crash in time to save the mother. The crash site did not, however, present much in the way of immediate evidence.

The traces of green paint on the concrete reservation did not imply a major crash, and neither did the bent end of the guard rail, which ran out because of a looming hillside a few feet further on.

Norma's sister, Cathy Cooney, told reporters that Ruby had been kept alive by "angels". "[Norma] was watching over her too," she said. "She probably took a bag of goodies along for the long car ride because that's the type of mum she is, caring and always thinking about her kids first."

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