Dramatic plunge off I-70 Vail Pass bridge by passenger car results in high angle rope rescue

VAIL, Colo. - An Aurora woman and her friend from Nebraska have quite a story to tell after the car they were in collided with a tanker truck on Vail Pass and plunged 120 feet off a bridge.

The accident happened Tuesday afternoon at about 1:45 p.m. at milepost 184 on westbound Interstate 70.  The two were in a Honda sedan when it struck a tanker truck and lost control while attempting to merge into the right lane of travel.  The car went over the bridge railing and landed upright in the deep snow below.

The rescue of the two injured people, identified as Phuc Read, 61, of Aurora, and her passenger, Quang Luong, 42, took approximately 2 1/2 hours and the highway was closed for more than 3 hours.

The Colorado State Patrol, Vail Fire and Emergency Services, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Vail Mountain Rescue and Eagle River Fire Protection District were involved in the rescue.

Initially, crews set up a rappel line and sent two firefighters down to the accident scene below. In addition, one firefighter was lowered with a stokes basket and equipment from the crews above. It was determined a "high angle" rescue was the best approach, which is a high-risk low frequency rescue strategy used to lower or haul victims and rescuers up or down a vertical rope system. Further assessment determined a "low angle" rope system would be utilized from the sides of the bridge to move the two victims from the car and up to a waiting ambulance. The patients were then rescued from the crash site and transported to Vail Valley Medical Center.

Even though the snow was difficult to work in, Fire Chief Mark Miller said it acted as a cushion when the car crash-landed, likely preventing more serious injury or death to the occupants.

Miller said recent efforts to enhance the department’s technical rescue program paid off in this instance with a safe and successful outcome. A unified command team was established to support the needs of the incident.

The driver and her passenger received serious injuries in the crash but both were conscious and communicating with emergency workers on scene and later at Vail Valley Medical Center. 

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