One woman’s incredible story of survival


A WOMAN who drank her own urine to survive three days in remote desert country after falling down a canyon and smashing her pelvis has shared her amazing story of survival.

Claire Nelson, a budding freelance travel writer from New Zealand, set off on a solo half-day, 10km hike in California's Joshua Tree National Park on May 22.

But a wrong turn and a wrong step saw her plunge six meters into a stony canyon a few hours into the hike where she remained for three days with just a little water and a mobile phone.

Incredibly she recorded what she was going through on her mobile phone camera.

"I started making the videos as soon as I fell. I wanted to record a message to my family so if I ended up dead they would know what had happened," she told Seven's Sunday Night program.

The powerful recordings were aired on the program.

They show Ms Nelson on her back at the bottom of the canyon unable to move.

She tried to call emergency services, only to discover there was no signal on her phone.

"I might die here. I'm really scared that that's the case. I don't know what to do. I can't get a signal out here. And no-one's out here," she says clearly in pain.

Claire Nelson six meters down the stony canyon. Picture: Sunday Night/Seven
Claire Nelson six meters down the stony canyon. Picture: Sunday Night/Seven

Temperatures in the famed park, which is about two hours' drive from Los Angeles, can soar to 40 degrees.

Ms Nelson used her hiking stick to lather sunscreen on her legs and took headache tablets to numb the pain.

On day two Ms Nelson used a plastic bag as a hat and her hiking stick to create shade.

"I was doing this kind of MacGyver-ish, uh, creation and putting the hat on top of that and holding that up. My makeshift umbrella," she said.

"This is basically me for the next six hours, now that the sun's coming over me. And legs covered. It gets very, very hot," she said.

She ate her last remaining food, a boiled egg, and with her water running out she said she didn't think twice about drinking her own urine.

"I'm not worried about food. It's just … It's drink. So, what, three days you can go without?

F---. Probably less in the desert. Be one day. And that's when I made a conscious decision to drink urine. It just … It wasn't even something I hesitated at, but what I did do was think, 'I don't know if I can stomach it'. Like this, I'm a goner."

She survived three days in the California desert. Picture: Sunday Night/Seven
She survived three days in the California desert. Picture: Sunday Night/Seven

Another night and day passed before anyone noticed Ms Nelson was even missing.

"I've actually cried, 'cause I'm getting really freaked out now," she says to the camera.

"And … I just think of all of you guys, my friends and my family, and I … I'd do anything to see you guys.

"I don't … I'm worried. Don't wanna be here. I really don't wanna be here."

Ms Nelson was house-sitting for her Aussie friend Natalie Saunders and American partner Lou Litrenta who lived nearby.

The couple had left for Scotland and decided to alert authorities after wondering why Claire hadn't been posting anything on social media.

"I thought, 'That's not right. She's in Joshua Tree. She's hiking. She's seeing beautiful things. She would've definitely posted', and my stomach just dropped, and I knew something was wrong," the Aussie said.

Manny Romero had the difficult task of trying to spot Ms Nelson from the search-and-rescue chopper.

"As we were flying around, we searched some of the common trails, made a lot of announcements over our PA system that if Claire could hear us, if she could make any type of movement," Mr Romero told Sunday Night.

At this point Ms Nelson was at her absolute low and recorded one final message.

"When is someone gonna come looking for me?" she says before the phone runs out of battery.

NZ hiker Claire Nelson during her ordeal. Picture: Seven/Sunday Night
NZ hiker Claire Nelson during her ordeal. Picture: Seven/Sunday Night

At first, Ms Nelson thought she was hallucinating. Then she made a makeshift scarecrow from her hiking stick and the plastic bag and waved down her rescuers.

"And then I hear them say, 'We see you. We're gonna come and get you.' And I dropped the stick and I just covered my face, and I was too dehydrated to cry, but I sobbed, like dry sobbing. And it was just the relief was just incredible. And I … I was thinking, 'I'm gonna be OK'," she explained.

Since the accident, Claire has been learning to walk again. And she plans to go on a hike again.

"I've always been aware of mortality and that life is short and all that. At any given moment, you know, it could all be taken away from you. I wasn't ready to die. You know, there's something to be said about, you know, a will to live. You know, it's a really strong motivator. It's a very powerful force," she said.

"And I underestimated that until that was all I had. I didn't want that to be where my story ended."