A woman who was swept away for miles in a fast-moving, rain-swollen canal after trying to escape from a crashed SUV in El Cajon has died, officials confirmed.
The 68-year-old woman was with her husband traveling down a rainy westbound I-8 when their SUV crashed into the Forester Creek canal near First Street and Naranca Avenue in El Cajon, according to Heartland Fire Department Battalion Chief Brian Hayward.
At the time, a strong flow of water was rushing through the canal due to the day's off-and-on showers. The SUV, with both passengers still inside, was swept away.
The vehicle finally stopped about a half-mile downstream when it became wedged under the 1st Street underpass. As the couple tried to get out of the crashed vehicle, the woman slipped and was again carried away in a rush of water, CHP said.
“A man and his wife were in the creek and he could not hold on to her and she floated down the river,” Hayward said.
Switft water rescue crews, firefighters and law enforcement personnel were staggered along the canal searching for the woman. The swollen river was rushing rapidly, making it difficult for first responders to find her.
Thirteen minutes after rescue crews were first called, the woman was located in Forrester Creek, almost five miles and in a different city from where she was first swept away.
It took crews stationed on Prospect Bridge another 30 minutes to pull her from the water. Hayward said crews used a pole to get the woman back to shore.
She was alive but unconscious as they transported her to Grossmont Hospital, Hayward said.
She was later pronounced dead, CHP confirmed Wednesday. She will not be identified until her family can be notified.
The woman's husband, the driver of the SUV, was uninjured.
CHP is investigating why the vehicle suddenly veered out of control on I-8 and toward the right-hand shoulder. The vehicle crashed into an on-ramp metering light, down an embankment and through a chain-link fence before landing in the canal.
As water levels in the canal receded, the SUV could be seen turned over on its side about 10 feet below the roadway, covered in debris. At least one of the SUV's windows were broken.
The vehicle will not be able to be recovered until water levels drop, CHP said.
It is not believed that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the investigation, and both passengers were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash, CHP said.
Cal Fire, San Diego Lifeguards, the San Miguel Fire Department, Heartland Fire Department, and fire departments from Santee, Lakeside and San Diego all responded.