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Rescuers recount race to save crash survivors dangling above Idaho gorge

Posted at 10:08 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 00:08:12-04

HAGERMAN, Idaho — A team of paramedics and a Good Samaritan are recounting the dramatic rescue of two people after a crash on a rural southwest Idaho highway left them hanging off a bridge in their truck, a hundred feet above a steep gorge.

A semi-truck driver had just the right supplies and the team had just the right rope skills, in an intense race against time to save the stranded survivors.

On Highway 84 northwest of Twin Falls, Idaho, drivers might blink and miss the short overpass that hovers above Malad Gorge.

The gorge is narrow but steep, with a waterfall at the bottom.

Truck driver Rod Drury told Idaho News 6 that people started locking up their brakes Monday afternoon, just as he was heading across the overpass.

"I thought it was a fatality accident because I knew a truck had gone over the edge," Drury recounted. "So I got out of my truck and I was like, 'You know, I don't even want to look over because I know how deep that gorge is... and they're going to be dead.'"

As he looked over, Drury saw the pickup had indeed gone over the edge of the bridge-- but the pickup truck was hanging in the air by a single safety chain connected to the pickup's camper.

An Idaho State Trooper arrived quickly, a press release stated, and the trooper called down to the truck. Two voices answered back.

"We knew [the truck] wasn't going to last. It was going to fall," Drury said.

A Gooding County Sheriff's Office deputy also showed up, and Drury explained that the three of them worked on securing the truck so it wouldn't fall.

"I was like well I got chains and the truck, let's use this truck. And we all just come to the conclusion," he said. "I just pulled my truck up there and we wrapped the chains around my bumper and the pickup, so it didn't fall-- because it was just hanging by this little chain."

Soon after, helped arrived from above.

The Magic Valley Paramedics Special Operations Rescue Team (SORT) flew in by helicopter.

"When we flew over the scene, we saw the truck hanging off," said Special Operations Supervisor Chad Smith. "And we knew that we had a very limited amount of time to do a rescue and get these people out safely, before that truck potentially ended up at the bottom of that canyon."

Smith is also a flight paramedic for St. Luke's. He explained that they have the technical ropes skills required for the rescue. Isaac Baker, a paramedic with Magic Valley Paramedics and Training Officer with the SORT team, described what it was like to repel down to the truck off the side of the bridge.

"Just looking down, I mean it looked a good 150 feet straight down, easy," Baker remembered.

Baker worked on further securing the truck so that it didn't drop straight down, while Smith and another rescuer repelled down the passenger side of the truck.

The only way they could reach the man and woman plus two dogs in the truck, he said, was by going through the passenger side window.

"We broke the passenger window out and actually one rescuer went inside of the pickup with the victims, and put a harness on them and secured them," Smith recounted. "And then as he picked them up out of the pickup, he handed them to me, and I hooked them into our ropes and our systems and was able to pull them the rest of the way out of truck and onto the ground."

In less than an hour, the team pulled everyone-- including the two small pups-- to safety.

"They were beyond thankful to see us and to be getting rescued," Smith said, of the two crash survivors.

The harrowing rescue ended successfully, and Smith said it was thanks to work from several different groups. And of course, a semi-truck driver with some extra chains.

"This goes to show that everybody brings a huge piece of the puzzle together to make it happen," Smith said.

He credits teamwork with saving the day.

"I'm really happy that the people are alive," Drury said. "That's the big thing. That they're alive."