As Natalie Griffin clung to a branch while a creek swelled below her, she imagined that her friend—who was dead—was speaking to her. "She said, 'It's OK, you can't think you are going to die,'" Griffin tells People. The thought helped calm her as she sat atop the branch for 12 hours in freezing weather following a car accident in California's Mendocino County last Wednesday. Griffin and her friend Jenna Santos, both 19, had been driving on Highway 101 during a rainstorm, with Santos at the wheel, when the car hydroplaned, flipped, and landed on its wheels in a swollen creek, reports the East Bay Times. As the car began filling with water, the women kicked out the cracked windshield, hoping to escape, but the water only flooded the vehicle faster.
With water at the teens' necks, Griffin noticed the back window was also broken and told Santos to follow her out of it, reports the Press Democrat. Griffin made it out but was quickly carried downstream. "I remember reaching from the water and grabbing onto a branch and I pulled myself up," she says. Santos never emerged from the car, and Griffin spent the next 12 hours on the branch in a light jacket as temperatures dropped to 28 degrees. "I thought I was going to die," Griffin says, though she was eventually able to cross the creek and flag down a car. At a hospital, she was treated for hypothermia, with her body temperature at 90 degrees. "She was so brave," says Griffin's cousin. But pain clouds Griffin's tale of survival. "This girl, who is like a sister to me, is just gone," she says. (A couple survived 48 hours lost in a blizzard.)