LOS ANGELES – The family of 88-year-old Melvin Gelfand was beginning to think they would never find him, whether dead or alive.

Two weeks after he had left his West Hollywood home on a day trip to a casino, they still had no clue where he was, despite the work of a Los Angeles police detective who was “terrific” and a private detective who was “equally good,” Gelfand’s son-in-law Will Matlack said Saturday.

Then came a bizarre twist.

The family of another missing man, David Lavau, 67, found Lavau and his wrecked car at the bottom of a remote ravine 50 miles north of Los Angeles. He was alive, and on Saturday was undergoing surgery, expected to make a full recovery.

But the car came to rest next to another, with a driver who was not so fortunate. The car was registered to Gelfand, and while investigators have not given the body an official identification, they told family members they were “99 percent sure” it was him, Matlack said.

The news was bad, but the longshot coincidence gave them closure they would have been unlikely to get. Gelfand was 70 miles from where he’d been headed. Unlike Lavau, whose family used cellphone signals to know where to look for him, Gelfand had turned off his phone.

“If you speculate the odds, it would be astronomical,” Matlack said.

Gelfand, who was reported missing Sept. 14, had left the house in his Toyota Camry, headed 10 miles away to Hawthorne where he’d catch a shuttle to a San Diego-area casino.

“He loved going to the casino and sit there at the slots all day,” said Matlack, who is married to Gelfand’s daughter Joan. “His wife was having a card party. It was a good excuse for him to get out and have some fun.”

But instead of heading south to the park-and-ride, he apparently went north on Interstate 405 and didn’t turn around, merging with Interstate 5 and ending up on, then off, the remote mountain road.

Gelfand got slightly lost on occasions, but nothing like this.

“He never exhibited symptoms of dementia,” Matlack said. “He was a diabetic, but he had taken his medication. I guess it’s possible for someone to slip into a full dementia episode, but that would be speculation.”

Speculation was all the family had two days after he was found. The California Highway Patrol, which took over the investigation, has not been in touch, though coroner’s officials have.

Messages left with local CHP officials by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

Gelfand, a World War II veteran who fought in Pacific battles including Iwo Jima, moved to California from New Jersey in 1959.

He owned a liquor store with his brothers before a retirement spent hanging out with his big family, going to casinos and occasionally working as a movie extra.

“He was the favorite uncle of everybody,” Matlack said.

Meanwhile, the family of Lavau, who was having surgery on a dislocated shoulder at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital on Saturday, had far more answers but were still reeling at their luck in finding him six days after he disappeared.

A sheriff’s detective helped them determine a general area to look by tracing Lavau’s cellphone, but it was a large and remote mountain area with canyons and ravines that could barely be seen from the road.

Once they had that information, they found him quickly, which was essential because he’d been living on bugs, leaves and creek water and borrowing Gelfand’s glasses for nearly a week.

“It seemed like forever, but it wasn’t, we’re talking hours,” Lavau’s son-in-law Jesse Hooker, one of the six in the family search party, said Saturday.

Hooker said family members took matters into their own hands not because they had a big problem with the response of the Sheriff’s Department, but they didn’t have the patience for police procedure.

“I don’t think they did a bad job,” said Hooker, husband of Lavau’s daughter Chardonnay Hooker. “I know that we weren’t willing to wait the time periods we were going to have to.”

And Hooker had only praise for Diane Harris, the sheriff’s detective who gave the family direction. Hooker said “if she didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did.”