Claire set out for a solo hike. Hours later she recorded a final message for her family.


Claire Nelson always loved the desert.

When the New Zealander’s friends asked her to cat sit at their home near the Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, she jumped at the chance.

Early one morning she drove into the desert to embark on a six-hour solo hike.

Just hours later, Claire would record a final message for her family.

Claire shares her incredible story with Sunday Night…

Now the 35-year-old has told her incredible story of survival to Sunday Night.

“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 happened,” she explained. 

Claire had followed the track for over two miles (3.2 kilometres) before realising that she couldn’t find the three mile marker.

Confused and needing a rest, Claire decided to sit on one of the giant boulders in the park.

When she stood up to leave, she slipped and fell down the rocks into the stony canyon below.


“It was when I stood up to get down from the rock, I was quite high up, and it was so slippery that I immediately went down,” she told the BBC earlier this year.

“I knew there was nothing I could do to stop myself. It was like going in slow motion. My head was just going: No, no, no, no.”

She had shattered her pelvis and was unable to move. Claire tried to call emergency services, only to discover there was no signal on her phone.


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I was initially hesitant about sharing this pic because it makes me feel a wee bit uneasy. It’s the only photo I have that shows the area where I was stranded. And MAN, I really was in the middle of nowhere. ⚡️ Here I was sittin’ in the shade having a drink of water, assessing the view and trying to figure out where the trail was. I still don’t know why I didn’t check my phone GPS, because if I had, I’d have realised that I WAS NOT ON THE TRAIL. I was actually about a mile off track, just scrambling through random desert. ⚡️ Testing my footing, I slipped on the large rock seen on the right, and dropped straight down, effectively swallowed up by the boulder stack. Looking at this photo I realise why my screaming for help was futile. Who the hell was going to hear me? How did the rescue helicopter ever find me? ⚡️ While nobody ever heard me, the helicopter crew eventually DID see me, on their last flyover, as I furiously waved my hat on the end of a stick. ???? Manny and Eric from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, you are legendary. (Without them I could still be out there. And maybe never found. I try not to think about that.) So I am counting my blessings, you guys. Counting all dem blessings. ????

A post shared by Claire Nelson (@ladyeclaire) on


That’s when Claire decided to record her whole ordeal.

“I can’t move… shattered pelvis,” she said in one of the videos. “I might die here and I’m really scared.”

She used a stick and a plastic bag to create a barrier from the hot desert sun. When her drinking water ran out the next day, Claire was forced to drink her own urine to survive.

But then her phone died.

“I think that’s when I realised that this could be it,” she told Sunday Night. 

Claire spent three nights and four days alone in the desert, waiting to die. Just when she thought all hope was lost, she heard a helicopter.


At first, Claire thought she was hallucinating. Then she made a makeshift scarecrow out 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’,” Claire explained. 

Since the accident, Claire has been learning to walk 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.”