Canyon Rescue

Drama in San Clemente Canyon

Event Report 20120223

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The Experience

There I was, minding my own business and the house started to shake.  To be sure, living close to the Marine base, we get aircraft overflights all the time.  But this racket was loud - so loud the house was shaking.  Typically, when we get a close fly-by from a helicopter, it is the police searching for somebody.  We sprinted outside to see the fire department helicopter.  Bad news -- this has historically presaged a fire in the canyon in front of our house.  Fearing the worst, I grabbed my camera and ran outside.

The photos below are what we saw.

When I first came outside, I spotted this UH-1 about 30 feet above the rim of the canyon.  I saw no smoke plumes and did not smell smoke, so I headed to the rim of the canyon for a look.

When I got to the canyon rim, I could see CA-52 in the distance and a bunch of emergency equipment.  It was not obvious what was taking place, but it was not a fire.

The "big iron" equipment started to arrive.  It was still not clear what had happened, but then I spotted the tire tracks just left of center in the photo above.

Sure enough, there was a crew at the bottom of the cliff at what appeared to be a car.  Vision through the heavy brush was a problem, but the rescue workers are clearly visible in the photo above.

In just a few seconds yet another piece of large equipment arrived, in this case a ladder truck and support crew.

The ladder truck was followed by another CHP cruiser.

Several more firemen went over the edge and one of the crew already on site attempted to go up the hill with minimal success.  That hill is very steep.

The news-ghouls were hovering about hoping to see some blood.

When they figured out that no blood was coming their way, they decided to move to a different viewpoint.

Meanwhile, the airborne ghouls came with their "big iron".

Not just one, but two helicopters.

Meanwhile, the fire crew reasonably concluded that taking the victim up that cliff was a non-starter.  Instead, they opted for bring the victim down the canyon bottom to the parking lot about 100 meters to the west.  The ambulance had already repositioned in anticipation of the victim's arrival.

There was only one victim.

The 1017 was our base station for the weekend and was the shelter from the non-existent foul weather.  This was such a pleasant surprise.  We have camped in this area in the winter many times and have frequently had cold, windy and/or rainy weather.  High winds in a dusty area is no fun and there is usually no place to hide.

Interestingly enough, after all the equipment that was mustered to get this person out, they sat in the parking lot for quite awhile before rolling off.

I went inside to do chores and returned outside in 15 minutes to see the wreckers completing their extraction of the crashed vehicle. Note that the vehicle does not appear to be really damaged.  The air bag did not go off.

This shot clearly shows the path of the crash versus the path of the extraction.  That cliff is steep.

We went inside to check the TV and there was live video from the helicopters.  The newscaster stated that the woman was on the phone with her husband and told him that she was driving over the cliff.  The husband called 911.  Clearly, for this person, driving and cell phones don't mix well.  Not seen in the photo above is the fact that the entrance ramp to CA-52 narrows from 2 lanes to only one lane, just to the left of the left-most wrecker.  My guess is that she was on the phone and there was a car on her left and that person honked at her since she was ignoring his presence.  He honked, she freaked out, lost control and the rest is photo history.

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