Rescuers’ efforts save woman clinging to cliff after fatal Jeep crash near Mount Rainier

Wichita Eagle

NOTE: This story has been updated to add new information.

She was clinging to a cliff and to life when rescuers reached her Saturday.

Hundreds of feet below, her companion was dead.

Near him was the wreckage of the Jeep Wrangler the pair had been riding in at Evans Creek ORV Park near the Mowich Lake Road entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.

It took the combined efforts of passers-by, rescuers, medics, helicopter and ambulance crews and others to get her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Saturday evening, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer and a good samaritan both said on Sunday.

The Jeep went off the road sometime around 5 p.m. according to Troyer.

Ky Dewald was about 200 yards away with friends. The group was taking a break from off-road racing when a woman came running down the trail to alert them of the wreck.

The group took her back up the mountain in one of their vehicles, Dewald said.

When they arrived they saw debris, including the Jeep’s roof, strewn down the hillside. Dewald estimated the slope to be about 80 percent.

He immediately descended.

“I slid down that thing like a Slip’N Slide,” Dewald said Sunday.

One of the victims’ companions who had been in an accompanying vehicle had already reached the female victim, about 400 feet below the road, Dewald said.

“The only thing that saved her was that she was thrown from the Jeep before it got to the bottom,” Dewald said.

He continued on to the male, at least another 400 feet. Dewald could not find a pulse on the man, he said, and he had sustained grievous injuries.

Dewald climbed back to the woman.

“I was literally thinking she was going to die as I sat there holding her hand,” Dewald said.

Dewald and the woman’s friend tried to keep her conscious.

“At first, I couldn’t get her to say any words,” Dewald said.

Within an hour a sheriff’s deputy arrived.

The woman became more coherent. She was lying on several Devil’s club plants — shrubs notorious for their large, painful thorns — and wanted to be moved off of them.

Given her injuries, that was impossible, Dewald said.

His friends brought down blankets and water for the woman.

He estimated he spent four hours on the hillside with her.

“I felt horrible,” Dewald said. “I kept telling her it would be a few more minutes.”

Using ropes, rescuers descended as far they could, Dewald said, and then climbed down the remainder.

After the woman was placed in a litter, rescuers above pulled her up.

At the top, a doctor intubated her and performed other life saving measures, Troyer said.

From there she was put in the back of truck with the doctor and driven to an area that was accessible to an ambulance.

The ambulance took her to Wilkeson, where she was transferred to a medical helicopter that took her to Harborview.

She remains in critical condition, Troyer said.

Those involved in the rescue are amazed at the woman’s survival, he said.

“We’re just all shaking our heads,” Troyer said. “This is something that nobody should have lived through.”

As he went to a Father’s Day dinner with his family on Sunday Dewald said he was thinking of the female victim.

And he has painful reminders of his climb down the slope.

“My hands are filled full of (Devil’s club) thorns,” he said.

The male victim’s body was recovered Sunday. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s officer said an identification is pending.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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