Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Montrose Search and Rescue – Two Local Girls Orphaned in Crash

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

In 1997, a young Armenian-American family was out for a pleasant sightseeing drive on the Angeles Crest Highway on a beautiful spring afternoon. It was a Friday and both the daughters had just gotten out of school, the youngest an 11-year-old at Lincoln Elementary School. The older daughter was a very popular 16-year-old student at Crescenta Valley High School. Their parents were Armenian immigrants from Iran, just days from their 18th wedding anniversary. As they came down the highway, returning from their pleasure drive, something very bad happened.

Newspaper reports from the time vary in their analysis of how the accident occurred. One states they were stopped at a viewpoint and the driver accidentally put the car into drive instead of reverse, while others say they lost control and flew off the side at 45mph. Whichever the case, no one was wearing a seatbelt.

Down below, in La Cañada, a teenage boy was walking the family dog when he happened to look up at the mountains. He was horrified to see a car tumbling down the mountainside, flinging its occupants as it went end-over-end. In many cases of cars over the side, it can be hours, even days, before anyone finds them but, because the boy had witnessed the accident in real-time, it was called in to rescuers immediately. Fire helicopters responded in minutes, followed closely by news helicopters that transmitted video of the rescues on live television.

When the Montrose Search and Rescue team arrived on-scene, it parked its rescue truck above the crash site. A team member hooked up to the truck’s winch and was lowered 500 feet down the near-vertical mountainside. He reached the youngest girl first, where there was already a fire paramedic with her. She had much damage to her torso, many broken ribs, cuts and bruises. After administering first aid, the two rescuers strapped her onto the rescue litter and winched her and the MSAR team member up the steep hillside. There she was loaded onto an air ambulance that had landed on the highway.

Meanwhile, fire paramedics had been lowered to the older daughter and the father, both splayed out on the steep cliff-face just below the younger daughter. The older daughter had severe cuts to her face and hands and was lifted into the fire helicopter. She had lost a lot of blood and was listed in serious condition at the hospital. The father was in really bad shape. He had massive chest trauma, probably sustained from hitting the steering wheel. He too was strapped into a rescue litter and lifted into a hovering copter. Sadly, even though he made it to the hospital, he died just a few hours later.

The mother had sustained massive head injuries when rescuers reached her and she was pronounced dead at the scene. The same Montrose Search and Rescue team member who had rescued the youngest daughter was again lowered by winch past the wrecked car to the mother’s body farther down. Using multiple cameras, he documented the death scene for the coroner. Then he wrapped her body, loaded her into the litter, and winched back up the hill, a sad journey. Because of the time of day and the multiple news helicopters, he had the rather strange experience of watching himself on the 11 o’clock news that night.

The only thing fortunate about this experience for the two surviving girls was that they had overwhelming support from their family and from the community. The older daughter recovered first and her facial scars were treated by a plastic surgeon. The younger daughter had a long recovery in the hospital with her painful broken ribs. Both girls were visited by many friends and family.

The girls were both still in the hospital when their parents were buried at Forest Lawn. The older girl wrote a letter to her parents, which was read aloud at the funeral by a sobbing friend of the family.

“I will always miss you for the rest of my life,” the daughter wrote. “You will always be inside me. I love you always.”