Rescued 81-Year-Old Stranded in Car by Snowstorms in CA Mountains Survives on Croissants, Snow

Rescued 81-Year-Old Stranded in Car by Snowstorms in CA Mountains Survives on Croissants, Snow
(Courtesy of California Highway Patrol and Inyo County Sheriff/ Inyo County Search and Rescue)
Michael Wing
3/11/2023
Updated:
4/24/2023
0:00

It had already been four days since anyone had heard from Joe Jouret’s 81-year-old brother. His departure down a mountain pass in California was followed by a series of winter storms in the area, and a search and rescue operation began.

After almost a week, an H80 search helicopter spotted what looked like a “rock” half-buried in snow. Alive in his Ford Focus, hand out of his window, Jouret’s brother was waving.

The 81-year-old had been heading home from Big Pine, California, northbound to Gardnerville, Nevada, but had taken an alternate route due to storm closures on Highway 395. Instead, he opted for Highway 168 leading into Death Valley National Park.

Last having been heard from on Friday, Feb. 24, after said series of winter storms in the days following, Inyo County Search and Rescue (InyoSAR) received a callout for a missing person on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

(Left) CHP deploys an H80 helicopter to assist in the search for Joe Jouret’s 81-year-old brother. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol); (Right) Search and rescue team members were deployed to comb Deep Springs Valley. (Courtesy of Inyo County Sheriff/ Inyo County Search and Rescue)
(Left) CHP deploys an H80 helicopter to assist in the search for Joe Jouret’s 81-year-old brother. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol); (Right) Search and rescue team members were deployed to comb Deep Springs Valley. (Courtesy of Inyo County Sheriff/ Inyo County Search and Rescue)

They responded immediately. But a winter storm caused the team to delay until Wednesday, March 1, due to safety concerns, according to Inyo County Sheriff’s Office.

Two teams of four search and rescue members, with support from Caltrans District 9, were deployed on Thursday and they began making their way into Deep Springs Valley, focusing their search around Gilbert Pass.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) deployed an H80 helicopter to provide additional assistance; it conducted two aerial searches around the Gilbert Pass.

At noon the same day, CHP forensics reported an identified cellular ping from approximately 4 p.m. on Friday, which belonged to the individual in question.

The searchers managed to triangulate the signal to an area along Death Valley Road, “a rough road running south of the 168 and leading into Death Valley National Park,” the sheriff’s office said, which had been inundated with snow caused by the recent storms.

Jouret’s brother's Ford Focus, buried in snow along Death Valley Road. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol and Inyo County Sheriff/ Inyo County Search and Rescue)
Jouret’s brother's Ford Focus, buried in snow along Death Valley Road. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol and Inyo County Sheriff/ Inyo County Search and Rescue)

The CHP H80 crew immediately returned to Bishop Airport to refuel before proceeding to Death Valley Road. Within a short time, the pilot spotted an object embedded in the deep snow.

“[The pilot] was about out of gas,” Jouret told news outlet Patch. “But he looked down and he saw what looked like a rock as he looked down. He had another man with him in the helicopter … and as they looked down there, it was [my brother’s] car. He was almost buried in snow, but not quite. He took his hand out of the window and waved it.”

They prepared for an extraction but, unable to land due to the deep snow, the pilot hovered the H80 about three feet over Jouret’s brother’s Ford Focus. One of the crewmembers harnessed up, descended, grabbed the stranded traveler, and pulled him from the vehicle.

(Left) Jouret's 81-year-old brother's Ford Focus buried in snow along Death Valley Road; (Right) Rescuers conducted a search in a CHP H80 helicopter. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol)
(Left) Jouret's 81-year-old brother's Ford Focus buried in snow along Death Valley Road; (Right) Rescuers conducted a search in a CHP H80 helicopter. (Courtesy of California Highway Patrol)

Once aboard, Jouret’s brother was flown to Bishop Airport, where he received medical care.

“He was smiling all the way back to the airport,” Jouret said on Friday. “He was happy to get out of that situation.”

He reportedly managed to survive the week by subsisting on croissants and snow. Jouret describes his brother as having been active his whole life and being “still pretty spry.” He was released hours later, Patch reported.

“I just really believe it was a miracle,” Jouret said.

Afterward, Inyo County Sheriff’s Department posted on Facebook, updating that the missing person had been found and recovered and thanking everyone, including volunteers and the community, who helped make the operation a success.

Offering advice to would-be travelers, they said, “InyoSAR would like to remind everyone to always be prepared for unexpected events and have a safety plan in place when traveling through the mountains.”