Car plunges off cliff near Tortilla Flat; 1 killed, 1 injured

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by Catherine Holland

Video reports by Jill Galus

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 6:43 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 24 at 10:43 AM

Map: Tortilla Flat

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APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. -- One man is dead and another is in the hospital after their car went off a cliff and fell about 250 feet while they were driving along a treacherous area of Highway 88 early Wednesday morning.

According to scanner traffic, it took firefighters about three hours to get to the 21-year-old passenger. When they did, he was already out of the car, a 2003 BMW, and walking around. Although he suffered only minor injuries, he was flown to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center as a precaution.

"The patient's main complaint was that he was cold," Capt. Brian Logsdon of the Apache Junction Fire Department said. "Once we got him comfortable, he was pretty content."

The wreck happened at about 2 a.m. along a section the Apache Trail/Highway 88 known as Fish Creek Hill. It just north of Tortilla Flat. There are quite a few switchbacks in that area making it a tricky drive, even for those who know the area. In addition, there are no guardrails along the road.

The spot where the car went off the road is a tight bend. 3TV's Jill Galus said the wreckage is not visible from the roadway. 

The terrain is extremely treacherous, which is why it took so long for rescue teams to bring the survivor up to the road.

The 20-year-old driver, a student at the University of Oklahoma, died on impact, his side of the vehicle smashed by boulders. The passenger said he was asleep, waking up as the car rolled off the cliff. He said he's not sure exactly what happened or what caused his friend to lose control of the vehicle.

"It's just amazing that anyone survived," Tammy Rose said, reporting from Chopper 3.

The victims, both of whom were wearing seat belts, are Chinese students in town from New York City and Oklahoma to visit friends during spring break. They were out stargazing after a trip to Apache Lake, but they were not familiar with the area.

The victims' two friends, also visiting for spring break, were in a car behind them and called for help. Cell service is spotty along the Apache Trail, so they were extremely lucky to have a signal and connect with emergency services.

There have been several similar incidents in the past. Aerial video from Chopper 3 showed the wreckage of a pickup truck from one of those accidents, mistakenly believing it to be the vehicle involved in Wednesday morning's crash.

Reporting from the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper, Bruce Haffner said he saw several vehicles in the ravines along the Apache Trail.

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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