Chris Smith had driven the road a hundred times. He had spent the past seven years as full-time counselor for Angeles Crest Christian Camp, a retreat-like cluster of cabins nestled 7,300 feet above sea level, atop the San Gabriel Mountains outside of Los Angeles. The winding, dangerous road was part of the life he and his family had chosen.

Since taking the job and moving to their mountaintop home, Chris, twenty-eight, and his wife, Michele, had watched their family grow. Their oldest child, Keagan, was now nearly five, Kailey was three, and Michele was five-months pregnant with their third child. Chris and Michele loved the thought of raising a large family in their mountain cabin and couldn't have been happier.

Chris, blond with blue eyes and the good looks of a suntanned surfer, had no regrets about choosing such a secluded lifestyle for his family. With crime and over-crowding pressures in the city, their little mountain cabin suited him perfectly. He enjoyed the thrill of watching busloads of hassled people arrive at the camp each week and leave days later renewed in their faith and attitude. When work was over and Chris headed back toward the cabin, he and Michele would take the children for hikes to explore the wilderness around their home. Theirs was a rewarding life and one that he and his family had come to cherish.

On the warm summer afternoon of August 10, 1991, Chris finished organizing the details for the next group of campers and walked through tall pine trees to his cabin, adjacent to the main hall.

Michele's face lit up as he opened the door and entered the room. He smiled at her, amazed that she seemed to grow more beautiful each day.

"Finished?" she asked as he pulled her into a hug.

"For now. The campers will be here this evening."

It was 2:30 p.m. and there were still several hours before darkness would blanket the mountain. For a moment, Chris and Michele remained in an embrace enjoying the solitude and closeness of each other. But suddenly a door opened near the back of the house and their two children came running into the main room.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Both children squealed with delight and raced toward Chris, jumping into his arms. "Play with us, come on, Daddy! Let's play tackle!"

Chris laughed. Keagan and Kailey were the joy of his life. The two blond children were full of energy and laughter and enjoyed nothing more than spending time rolling on the floor with their father. Chris could hardly wait until the new baby could join them in this ritual of afternoon play.

For thirty minutes Chris played with the children, laughing and tickling them until, finally, they lay stretched across the floor exhausted. Michele, entered from the back of the cabin where she had been busy working in the kitchen, into the main room, humming to herself.

"What time are you going to town?" she asked. Chris jumped up nimbly and brushed a lock of hair from his forehead. "Five minutes," he said, grinning. Michele smiled to herself. She never got over how handsome he was, how he could bring a room to life with his smile. "I think I'll take Kailey with me this time."

Michele nodded. "OK," she said, smiling at their little girl.

Every week Chris drove down the winding mountainside for groceries and supplies. Usually he took Keagan with him so the two could spend some special time together. But now that Kailey was getting older, Chris thought it was time she was given a turn.

Michele crouched down so she could look into her daughter's eyes. "Kailey, you be a good girl for Daddy, hear?" The child nodded and Michele glanced up at Chris. "And you be careful, OK?"

"Always."

The two-lane highway was barely etched into the side of the mountain and was bordered by sheer clifflike drops of several hundred feet. It wound like a roller coaster up and down the mountain and left little room for error. Each year there were numerous fatalities along the twenty-five-mile stretch of roadway from the valley floor to the camp. The Smiths had known people who had been killed when their cars flipped over the side of the road and tumbled into the canyon below. Even someone like Chris, who knew every curve and straightaway of the road as if it belonged to him, could easily spend an hour of complete concentration while driving to the nearest market at the base of the mountain.

Chris smiled and swung his muscular arm around Michele's slim shoulder. "I've got to get some lumber for the camp, and I'll stop at the market," he said, mentally going over the items they needed. "Is there anything else you need?"

Michele shook her head. "I don't know. I've been with the kids all day. You're all I need right now."

Chris smiled again, bending to kiss his wife gently. "Don't worry, I'll be home before you know it. Come on, Kailey, let's get going," he said, motioning toward the little girl.

Kailey, every bit as beautiful as her mother but with a charm all her own, nodded seriously and then broke into a contagious smile as she skipped to her father's side. "Love you, Mommy," she said in her small voice, leaning up to kiss her mother. She would be four in a few months and was growing up quickly.

Michele hugged her daughter. "Love you, too, honey." Then she turned to Chris. "Drive safely," she said again. It was something she always said, something that could never be said enough.

"Always," he said, winking at her and pointing toward the heavens. Years earlier they had begun using the gesture as a way of reminding each other of their belief that prayer would keep them safely in God's hands. Michele returned the sign and smiled.

"See you soon," Chris said. He reached down for Kailey's hand and the two of them headed toward their brand new Ford Ranger parked outside.

The day was beautiful: soothing rays of sunshine filtered through the pine trees, and the sky blazed a crystal-clear blue above. Chris hummed to himself as he buckled Kailey into her car seat, checking to be sure the car seat was attached securely to the backseat of the vehicle. He kissed her nose and tousled her hair before climbing into the driver's seat.

Nearly three hours later they had gotten all their supplies and were heading back up the mountainside when Chris began to feel the lumber shifting in the back of his vehicle. He slowed down enough to prevent the load from spilling over. The wood was tied down, but if the load spilled, the ropes would be useless and the lumber could tumble onto the highway. At about the same time, he reached a busy section of the narrow highway which served as a shortcut for commuters. Chris knew that a spill could trigger a dangerous accident; and he silently prayed that the load he was carrying would stay in place.

Many people lived in the desert community of Palmdale but worked in the Los Angeles basin. Typically, that commute took more than an hour in heavy traffic, but as much as twenty minutes could be saved by taking a mountain road that merges with Angeles Crest Highway for several miles. Chris knew, as did everyone who drove the mountain highway on a regular basis, how busy that section of the road could be.

Glancing in his rearview mirror, Chris saw that several impatient drivers had come up behind him. He tried to accelerate, but as he did, the lumber he was carrying shifted dangerously, and he was forced to slow down once more.

Kailey was singing to herself, unaware of the predicament her father was in. She sang in her sweet, high-pitched voice as Chris looked for a place to pull over. If only he could let the cars behind him pass, he could resume his drive at a slow pace and avoid spilling his load of lumber. He scanned the side of the highway in frustration. There were only inches separating the road from the canyon's edge, and there was no turnout for several miles.

He glanced once more in his mirror and worried that one of the drivers might try to pass him--a common cause of serious accidents along the highway. His eyes were off the road for just a moment. When he looked again, his truck was heading off the roadway. Terrified he might fall over the canyon edge, Chris made a split-second decision against slamming on his brakes. The other cars were following too closely, and if they hit him, the impact could send him over the cliff. Instead, he pulled over toward the shoulder--less than three feet wide at that location--and applied the brakes slowly. The other cars began to pass him and Chris sighed aloud. He tried not to think what might have happened if he hadn't looked ahead when he did.

Then, just before his vehicle came to a complete stop, the earth under his front right tire gave way and, in an instant, the Ranger began tumbling down the mountainside into the canyon.

"Hold on!" he screamed. Somewhere in the distance he could hear Kailey crying.

The Ranger tumbled wildly downward, and Chris was struck by an uncontrollable force which slammed his body against the shoulder harness of his seat belt and then against his truck's shell with each complete roll. As his vehicle continued bouncing and rolling down the mountain, Chris could feel his head swelling. He knew he would probably not live through the accident, but his biggest fear was for Kailey, whose cries had eerily disappeared.

Finally, more than 500 feet down the mountain, Chris's Ranger came to rest upside down. Chris was trapped in the front seat, but he was conscious. A warm liquid was oozing around his eyes and mouth and ears; he knew, without looking, that he was bleeding badly.

"Kailey!" he screamed, desperately trying to maneuver his body so he could see the child. "Kailey, baby, where are you?"

Chris listened intently but heard only the sound of the wind whistling through the canyons. His body nearly paralyzed with pain, he worked himself out of what remained of his Ranger. It was then that he saw the backseat. Amidst the mangled metal, Kailey's car seat was still strapped to the backseat, its tiny body harness still snapped in place. But Kailey had disappeared. Chris felt a sickening wave of panic. If she had been thrown from the truck during the fall she could not possibly be alive. She would have died immediately upon impact.

"Kailey!" he screamed, tears streaming down his face as he searched the steep hillside above him for his tiny daughter. Suddenly he knew what he had to do. He fell to his knees.

"Lord, thank you for allowing me to live through that fall." He whispered the words, his head hung in quiet desperation. "Now please, please let me find Kailey."

He stood up. "Kailey!" he yelled as loudly as he could, his voice choked by sobs. "If you can hear me, I'm coming to find you, sweetheart. Can you hear me, baby?"

Chris looked straight up at the rocky mountainside he would have to climb to reach the road. Suddenly, he saw people standing along the road's edge waving toward him. Then he remembered the cars that had been following him so closely. Someone must have seen the accident.

"Are you OK?" a man yelled, his voice echoing down the rocky canyon. Nearby, another passerby was already using a cellular telephone to call for help.

Fresh tears flooded his eyes as he screamed back, "Yes! But I can't find my daughter!"

Moving as quickly as possible, Chris began making his way up the hillside toward the people. He had begun coughing up blood, and his head felt as if it were about to explode. Still he continued to call Kailey's name every few feet. Finally, when he was forty feet from the road, he heard her.

"Daddy, Daddy," she cried. "I'm here!"

Chris felt a surge of hope and refused to give in to his body's desire to pass out. He had to reach her. "Kailey, I'm coming!" he shouted.

At that moment someone standing alongside the road pointed downward. "There she is!" Suddenly three of the bystanders were scrambling down the cliff toward a small clearing hidden from the road. They reached the child at about the same time Chris did. Kailey was sitting cross-legged on top of a soft, fern-fronded bush. Her eyes were black and blue, and she had dark purple bruises around her neck. She was shaking and crying hysterically. Instantly, Chris thought her neck must have been broken.

"Be careful of her neck," he shouted. "Let's lift her together."

"Yes," someone shouted from a few feet above the place where Kailey was sitting. "Let's get her up to the road."

Chris managed to stand beneath two men, helping to push his daughter up with his remaining strength as the others hoisted her to the highway. At about that time a medical helicopter landed on the highway twenty-five feet from the spot where Chris's truck had tumbled over the cliff. Paramedics began running toward Chris and Kailey, surrounding them and swiftly administering emergency aid. Within minutes, father and daughter were strapped to straight boards and air-lifted to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

Chris's head had swollen to nearly twice its normal size from the number of times it had slammed into the back of the truck. His lungs were also badly damaged from the pressure of his seat belt, which definitely saved his life. He was placed in intensive care and given a slim chance of survival.

Meanwhile, Kailey was taken to the pediatric unit where she was held for observation. Doctors took X-rays and determined that despite her severely bruised neck there was no damage to her spinal column. She had no internal injuries and had even escaped a concussion. Several hours passed before Michele got word of the accident and was able to rush to the hospital.

When she reached his side, Chris was unconscious, hooked up to numerous tubes and wires. His head was so swollen and his face so badly bruised that she hardly recognized him. She held his hand, crying and praying intently that he would survive. Then she went to find Kailey.

The little girl began crying when Michele hurried in, muffling a gasp at the sight of her bruised neck and eyes. Michele sat beside her quivering child and took her shivering body into her arms.

"It's OK, honey, everything's going to be all right," Michele murmured as she tried desperately to appear strong. "Why don't you tell me what happened?"

"Oh, Mommy," she cried harder, burying her head in her mother's embrace. After several seconds, Kailey finally looked up, tears streaming down her face and began to talk.

"We were driving and then we started to fall," she said, her eyes brimming with fresh tears. "Then the angels took me out and set me down on the bushes. But Daddy kept on rolling and rolling and rolling." Kailey began to cry harder. "I was so worried about him, I didn't know if he was ever going to stop rolling. Is he OK, Mommy?"

"He's going to be OK," Michele said, but she was trying to understand what Kailey had just said. "Sweetheart, tell me about the angels."

"They were nice. They took me out and set me on a soft bush."

Michele lay her daughter down gently on the pillow and ran her fingers over the purple bruises that circled her neck. Suddenly a chill ran the length of her spine and goose bumps popped up on her arms and legs. Angels? Taking Kailey from the car? She remembered scriptures that spoke about angels watching over those who love God.

"Do you know my angels, Mommy?" Kailey asked, no longer crying, her honest eyes filled with sincerity.

Michele shook her head. "No, Kailey, but I'm sure they did a good job getting you out of the truck. Sometimes God sends angels to take care of us."

Over the next few days, as Chris's condition began to miraculously improve, sheriff's investigations learned more about the accident. First, they determined that no one had ever survived a fall of 500 feet along the Angeles Crest Highway. Typically, even if a person is wearing a seat belt, the head injuries caused by rolling so many times cause fatal hemorrhaging.

Second, they found the Ranger's back window completely intact and only a few yards from the highway. Although they had never seen this happen before, the window had popped out in one piece upon initial impact with the steep embankment.

Next, they determined that Kailey would have had to fall out of the tumbling truck on the first roll for her to have landed where she did. Which meant that in a matter of seconds the back window must have popped out and Kailey must have somehow slipped through the straps of her seat belt and fallen backwards through the opening onto the soft bush.

"A virtual impossibility," the investigators later said. In addition, the area was covered with sharp, pointed yucca plants. Had she landed on one of them, the wide shoots that jut out from the plant could easily have punctured her small body and killed her. The soft bush where she was discovered was the only one of its kind in the immediate area.

"From all that we know about this accident," the investigators said later, "we will never know how Kailey Smith survived."

For Kailey, the explanation was obvious.

Months later, after Chris had made an astonishingly quick recovery and was home helping Michele with their newborn son and busy preparing the cabin for Christmas, Kailey continued to speak matter of-factly of the angels who pulled her from Daddy's car, set her on the soft bush, and kept her safe until Daddy could reach her.

Left with no other explanation, Chris and Michele believe their daughter is telling the truth about what happened that August afternoon. About her very special encounter with angels.

 

From: ANGELS, MIRACLES AND ANSWERED PRAYERS. (There’s an angel on your shoulder: Angel encounters in everyday life) Vol 1. Kelsey Tyler. Angel encounters in everyday life and everyday lives touched by miracles. Pag. 13-22, Guideposts. New York 1994.

 

 

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