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Flying off the Angeles Crest with a satellite angel watching from above

A soothing recreational drive up and down the Angeles Crest Highway has been a balm for the soul of San Gabriel Valley motorists ever since the road into our mountains was completed in 1956.

And for our wildly energetic cyclist sisters and brothers, it’s an amazingly vigorous ride up to Red Box and beyond, and a crazy-fast coast down.

The vistas of the San Gabriels the trip offers. The vrooming red Ducatis on our automotive tails. The pull-offs onto the roadside rests to take in the city views, 10 million Angelenos down below you just 20 minutes away.

We drive it to simply get out. A friend took his very old sports car up there solo over Christmas weekend to try and also drive out the ‘rona bug that he had come down with — that didn’t work, but the two-lane highway was still a thrill. We drive it to camp and even backpack through the wilderness so close to our doorsteps. Back when Kratka Ridge and Mt. Waterman had more reliable winter snow, I drove it every season for a fun and primitive close-by ski.

It’s never been the safest of roads — the steepest of cliffs just outside your car windows, with very few guardrails. This newspaper has been filled with stories of vehicles leaving the pavement and flying off to land on the canyon floors hundreds of feet below, with often fatal consequences, ever since the extension of California state Highway 2 was opened.

But there’s never quite been an Angeles Crest story like the one that was related after a Dec. 13 crash up in Monkey Canyon. It’s an incredible tale of the jumps in both automobile safety, iPhone technology, in the derring-do of our sheriff’s helicopters and the volunteers of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team — plus incredible luck — that left a couple in their early 20s not only alive but with just some scrapes and bruises after launching into the air from the road, the car landing upside down 300 feet below, and a satellite-enabled SOS that alerted authorities and led to their swift extrication from dire straits.

Cloe Fields and Christian Zelada, the driver of a newish Hyundai Elantra though a Honda employee himself, say they were being tailgated and honked at by the driver of a white Mercedes, and decided to pull over by Mile Marker 18 — at a bit of speed, apparently, because they fishtailed on the gravel and flew over the cliff.

He talked to her on the way down: “We’re OK. We’re OK. We’re OK.”

And then, they actually were. Airbags deployed. Seat belts holding them in. They unbuckled and found her new iPhone 14, the only smartphone to automatically connect to a satellite-rescue line staffed by Apple when it detects a crash — there is no cell service on the canyon floor. Fields’ phone screen was cracked, but it’s amazing to look at the pictures of what she saw on it when Zelada picked it up 10 yards from the wreck: Instructions to point the thing up toward a satellite in the sky. First, the phone sent the exact coordinates of their location. Then a staffer texted: “tell me what happened.” “Two people we are ok. Moving down stream.” “Emergency services have been contacted and are in route to your location.”

Within half an hour, a big sheriff’s copter was hovering over them, lowering the rope and chair, hauling them up.

It’s all like a viral fever dream concocted by the shade of Steve Jobs in order to gin up sales with this tale of a Christmas-time miracle. I mean, my older phone won’t do that. I do recall surfing next to a woman who was wearing an iWatch. It kept telling her, “It looks like you’ve taken a fall.” And she kept yelling at it, “Of course I’ve taken a fall. I’m surfing, you idiot!”

The kick in the head is that it turns out that while Apple is making the satellite calls free for two years, it’s going to start charging for the service after that. What’s the of a cost helicopter rescue from the promise of a freezing night on a canyon floor? Hard to put a price on it.

Wednesday at random

Great good luck to TofR President Amy Wainscott and her team on avoiding the rainstorms this coming Monday. My iPhone weather app predicts just cool and cloudy on the 2nd …

A happy new year to all.

Write the public editor at lwilson@scng.com

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