US police are praising the bravery and tenacity of a 9-year-old girl who crawled out of a mangled SUV at the bottom of a remote Southern California canyon and hiked nearly 3km to find help for her father, who was pinned in the driver's seat following a rollover crash.
Celia Renteria was sure her father was still alive when she climbed up the rocky embankment early on Sunday (Monday NZT), as temperatures dropped, said California Highway Patrol Officer Gil Hernandez.
When officers responded more than an hour and a half later, they found Alejandro Renteria, 35, was dead.
"She was very courageous, being able to walk through the dark, through bushes and very rough terrain to get help for her dad," Hernandez said.
"Had she just waited there, we probably would not have found her until the next day."
The 2010 Ford Escape was launched about 200 feet down into the canyon along an isolated stretch of the Sierra Highway in the high desert of northern Los Angeles County at about 1am local time, the CHP said. The vehicle overturned several times.
Celia managed to extricate herself and walk through rugged terrain to a nearby home, but nobody answered the door, the CHP said.
Then she hiked up the embankment and along the road to a commuter rail station in nearby Acton where she flagged down a passing motorist at about 2.30am.
In all, she trekked up to 3km.
"She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment," CHP Sergeant Tom Lackey told local news station, KABC-TV.
"It's very steep and it's brushy and there's also coyotes in the background."
A helicopter transported the girl to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She was treated for minor injuries including bumps and bruises and a cut on her face.
"She's in good condition," Lyndsay Hutchison, a hospital spokeswoman.
On video shot by the family in the hospital, the girl said she was cold and hurt, according to KCBS-TV. She told her family she was saddened to learn her father did not survive the crash.
Television footage showed crews using a long tow cable to remove the severely damaged black SUV from the canyon.
The CHP was investigating whether alcohol played a role in the crash.
Acton is a small town tucked in the mountains between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert.