Trees keep pickup from falling 500 feet to bottom of Sandy River canyon

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO:  - Firefighters were perched in a very precarious place as they attempted to rescue a girl inside the pickup that had plunged off Bluff Road and stopped about 40 feet down a 500-foot cliff above the Sandy River.July 1 was one of those typical, dreary Mondays when very little goes right.

A Sandy High School student was driving north on Bluff Road around 11 a.m. when a bee came into the cab of the pickup she was driving.

In her attempt to swat the bee and prevent being stung, the 17-year-old missed the left-hand curve just past Jonsrud Viewpoint in the 14000 block of Bluff Road.

The pickup left the roadway and plunged down the cliff toward the Sandy River, about 500 feet below.

In the next two seconds, Monday turned into a good day.

Her truck lodged against an old tree stump surrounded by several smaller trees about 40 feet down the nearly vertical cliff, said Phil Schneider, Sandy’s deputy fire chief.

The arrangement of trees and stump gave a distant observer the impression it was a natural “hand” with trees for fingers and the old stump as the palm of the hand, catching the girl’s truck as if it were the protective hand of Mother Nature.

From her precarious front-row seat, the teen was looking down at what could have become her death bed — the river bed.

Instead, the pain from an injury to her left arm was not life threatening, and her worst fears began to subside.

With her seat belt on and her air bag open, the girl was relatively safe and alive.

But she was unable to leave the truck because the small trees on each side prevented her from opening the doors.

Responding quickly to the 9-1-1 call from a witness, the Sandy and Boring fire departments rigged a technical high-angle rescue, and firefighters lowered themselves down to the truck.

“We got a paramedic down to her immediately,” Schneider said, “and then we set up the system to pull her up.”

After cutting some small trees away from the truck door, they placed the girl in a long rescue basket with ropes attached, and nearly a dozen firefighters near the road assisted in pulling the basket up the steep bank. That process took an hour, because of the precarious position for firefighters as well as the victim.

The patient was taken to Randall Children’s Hospital for treatment.

Schneider said another vehicle went over the bank in the same area less than three months ago, but was stopped before the free fall by another Good Samaritan tree stump.

Schneider said he would suggest to the city that a guard-rail extension be installed to protect the beginning of that S-curve.

Schneider also remembered that years ago a fatality was recorded when someone went over the cliff at the same location and landed at the bottom.

Assisting the Sandy Fire District were Boring Fire District’s heavy rescue unit, Sandy police officers, American Medical Response ambulance and CCR Towing.

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