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Student holds onto tree in freezing water for 12 hours after surviving car crash that killed her best friend

Mirror logo Mirror 16/01/2017 Zoe Shenton

Natalie and Jenna

Natalie and Jenna
© Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc

A student survived a car crash that tragically killed her best friend by holding onto a tree in freezing water for 12 hours.

Best friends Natalie Griffin and Jenna Santos were driving home to Castro Valley, California, along Highway 101 on Wednesday evening when the car veered off the road and into Outlet Creek in Mendocino County.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the car flipped a number of times before crashing into the creek.

Natalie, who was a passenger in the car, and her friend both desperately tried to kick the windshield out as water entered the vehicle.

Natalie, 19, eventually saw that a rear window was broken and made her way out and assumed her friend was following her, but she never made it out.

Natalie's cousin Monica Keyser, 28, told the East Bay Times : “She started to panic and told herself to calm down. That’s when she noticed a broken window in the back and showed Jenna. She told her to follow her. 

“When she surfaced, she wasn’t sure if she had made it out.”

For 12 hours, Natalie was forced to cling onto a tree that was 100 yards from land and partially submerged in water.

When it started to get light, she swam across Outlet Creek and back to the highway where a driver noticed she was soaking wet.

She was eventually taken to Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital where she was treated for hypothermia before being released the following day.

After Natalie got help, the California Highway Patrol and fire department launced a search for Jenna.

The car was pulled from the water around 4pm on Thursday and Jenna's body was found inside.

The California Highway Patrol said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

A Gofundme page has been set up for Jenna, which remembers her for her "contagious smile, kind heart, and her ability to light up any room."

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