Calif. tactical medics rescue man hanging head-first off cliff

The man was clinging to the side of the cliff "like a cat" as rescuers quickly formulated a plan to save him


Lila Seidman
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. — A mountain biker who fell off the side of a cliff in the Mt. Wilson area on Thursday morning dangled face down hundreds of feet off the ground before the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department managed to pull off a daring rescue.

Somehow the biker, described as an older man, wound up hanging upside down 30 feet below the side of a toll road in the Angeles National Forest above Altadena, authorities said. Only a thin cord around his ankle — tied to a bicycle his brother was sitting on — tethered him to the ground above.

He was hanging on for dear life, "like a cat," when rescue teams arrived, said Capt. Tom Giandomenico of the Sheriff's Department's special enforcement bureau.

Because of the biker's precarious position, the helicopter team couldn't simply hoist him to safety. The forceful air generated by the helicopter could have sent him plummeting to what Giandomenico described as "imminent death."

The special enforcement bureau is composed of former SWAT team officers with paramedic training. "Their mind-set is to make things work," Giandomenico said.

Daniel Aleman, one of the responders, who's been with the elite bureau 20 years, concocted a plan on the fly. He'd rappel down to the man and move him to a ledge below. From there, they could be safely airlifted.

But there was a problem: There was nothing sturdy enough to tie a rope to. No boulders. No large trees.

So Aleman asked the man's brother and another friend who was there to be his anchor. He instructed them to sit down and tied a rope around them.

It worked.

Once Aleman reached the man, he said he was relieved to find him shaken but conscious.

"Thank God, he was OK. That made me feel better," Aleman said the next day. "He was just stuck — in a bad spot."

The cord tied to the man's ankle was cut and a harness placed around him, authorities said. Both men then descended to a safer spot below and a helicopter was called in to retrieve them.

A search-and-rescue team from Altadena retrieved the man's mountain bike below. Another team from Montrose prepared a helicopter landing area in the parking lot of the Mt. Wilson Observatory.

The rescued man was lucky in many ways, Aleman said. He had fallen off the south side of the mountain — facing the city — where cellphone reception made it possible for his companions to call for help. On the other side, cell reception is scarce.

"I'm happy for him, I really am, because a lot of times we get calls where they really don't turn out that way," Aleman said.

Giandomenico said it was more than luck, crediting Aleman's skill and quick thinking.

In more than two decades with the bureau, "that's one of the more significant, courageous maneuvers I've seen," he said. "Heroic, in my opinion."

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(c)2021 the Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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