Pickup rolls off cliff near Tortilla Flat, 4 injured

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by Catherine Holland

Video reports by Bruce Haffner and Steve Bodinet

Posted on April 30, 2013 at 12:54 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 2:58 PM

Map: Tortilla Flat, Ariz.

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NEAR TORTILLA FLAT -- Four people were hurt when their pickup truck tumbled over a cliff on State Route 88 near Tortilla Flat Tuesday morning. Firefighters from two agencies put together a tricky technical rescue to save one patient who had been trapped in the truck for hours.

According to Rural Metro, the pickup went over the cliff at about 1 a.m. Tuesday near Fish Creek Crossing on State Route 88 at milepost 222.

Nearly seven hours later, one person was still trapped at the bottom of the ravine. One had made her way to the top of the cliff, while a third person hiked up and then went for help.

"Once DPS officers arrived on scene it was determined that one of four victims, a male in his mid-20s, had walked several miles to Tortilla Flat, and was able to call for help," according to Apache Junction Fire Capt. Dave Montgomery.

While Rural Metro paramedics treated that man, the Apache Junction Technical Rescue Team headed to the crash site.

Aerial video from the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper showed the distance the pickup truck rolled off the roadway and the trail of debris left behind as it plummeted.

While a female victim in her 20s made her way out of the gully and up to the roadway, a man and a woman -- both in their 20s -- were still in the ravine. The male was not badly injured and was able to hike out on his own, but the woman, still trapped in the pickup, had suffered severe head and facial trauma.

Members of technical rescue crews from the Apache Junction and Rural Metro fire departments made their way down the steep, rugged hill -- a drop of between 150 and 200 feet -- to the mangled pickup.

They extricated their patient from the truck, stabilized her, and then strapped her to a backboard in a rescue basket. Once she was stable and secure, they began the painstaking process of getting her up to the roadway. That operation required the coordinated efforts of between 20 and 30 firefighters, several of whom were working a rope-and-pulley system that they had attached to the rescue basket.

All four patients were transported to Valley hospitals.  Both ground and air ambulances were used.

It's not clear what caused the wreck, but it's certainly not the first time something like this has happened.

According to 3TV's Steve Bodinet, the Apache Trail, particularly the Fish Creek Hill area, has been the site of several similar rescue operations over the years. In an email to media outlets, Montgomery referred to the Fish Creek Hill section of SR 88 as "treacherous."

Tortilla Flat is a small unincorporated community northeast of Apache Junction, about an hour and 20 minutes from Phoenix. It's the starting point for several hiking trails that lead into the Superstition Mountains.

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