This is one of our classic rescues that later came to be known as the “Miracle on the Mountain”, even inspiring the design of our 2005 t-shirt. One of two cars returning family members from a basketball game in Durango disappeared after rounding a turn. The mini-van had gone off Highway 550 at a shallow angle before impacting obstructions and then sliding straight down to the river below. The vehicle, with six people on board, came to a rest next to the river, approximately 400 feet below the edge of the road. Family members in the following vehicle, equipped with On-Star, summoned help, and the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team responded. Amazingly, only one person in the crash sustained injuries sufficient enough to warrant a low angle rescue and a trip to Montrose Memorial Hospital. The remaining five passangers had not suffered injuries, and were assisted out with ropes and jumars (rope climbing devices).
A number of critical elements came together to result in the successful conclusion of this rescue. first, individuals in the following car immediately noticed the absence of the vehicle, investigated and called for help. Had that not occurred, the vehicle in the gorge may not have been spotted for days. Second, the specific point of departure from the road led to a shallow angle descent, using up perhaps a quarter to a third of the vertical distance, thus minimizing force of the final descent. Third, the several feet of snow on the steep sides acted as a brake, slowing both the cross-wise and subsequent straight down slide, minimizing impact forces on the occupants. In fact, although the vehicle rolled once, the air bags did not deploy.