Woman, 88, licked windscreen to survive after crash

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An 88-year-old American woman trapped inside her car after careering off the road into a ditch survived for five days by wiping the windscreen with a towel and sucking on the moisture, her stunned rescuers recounted yesterday.

Mary Lillian Anderson and her red 1997 Cadillac Seville were stuck just a few yards from a well-frequented corner of suburban Vancouver, in southern Washington state, but were concealed from view by a steep incline overgrown with blackberry bushes.

She could not open the doors or windows to cry for help, and could not reach the shopping bags full of food which she had stored in her boot. She was on the way back from the shops to her suburban condominium when she misjudged a turn and tumbled down the incline.

As she later told her son, she spent her time praying to her guardian angel and counting forwards and backwards from 1 to 500, over and over again. She could hear the nearby traffic from Interstate 5, the main road linking Portland to Seattle, but had no clue how to alert anyone to her whereabouts.

Her neighbours, meanwhile, reported her as missing, but the county sheriff's department did not conduct a search because they had no idea where to start.

Help eventually arrived in the form of Andrew Thompson, a 30-year-old propane delivery man, whose truck was high enough for him to be able to catch a glimpse of her red vehicle as he was making his rounds.

Just a couple of days earlier, a police patrol car had sat on the edge of the road at the top of the embankment, just a few feet away from Ms Anderson, but the officers had seen nothing because of the thick briars and brush.

Mr Thompson scrambled down the slope and, when he realised there were no footprints or tracks leading away from the car, expected to see at least one dead body inside.

Instead, as he peered in through the window, Ms Anderson peered right back. "She was sitting right there, staring back at me," Mr Thompson told local reporters. "She looked very happy."

As the paramedics arrived and loaded Ms Anderson into an ambulance, she turned to her rescuer and said: "This isn't the last thing you'll hear from me."

She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was described as dehydrated but otherwise in remarkably good shape.

She is expected to make a full recovery.