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Man, dog rescued from Penn Hills ravine after car plummets off cliff

Michael DiVittorio
| Friday, July 13, 2018, 5:27 p.m.

A man in his early 60s and his dog were rescued from a Penn Hills ravine Friday night after the man’s car crashed through a residential garage and plummeted off a cliff, dragging a 23-foot pontoon boat and trailer along with it.

The rescue operation took nearly five hours.

The man, whose name was not immediately released, was pulled to safety about 8:30 p.m. and taken to a Pittsburgh hospital, officials said.

Penn Hills EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry said the man sustained lacerations and a slight head injury, but no life-threatening injuries. He appeared to be conscious when he was taken to an ambulance.

A Penn Hills police officer, firefighter and a few other emergency responders were taken to local hospitals for heat exhaustion, officials said.

About the same time, a dog that had been inside the SUV with the man, a pitbull mix named “Boss,” also was pulled to safety and taken to an animal hospital in Monroeville, Fitzhenry said.

“During the course of the evening we transported six patients (including the man),” she said. “We’ve treated two patients at the scene and they were released, and we treated and transported one dog.

”Most of the firefighters and rescuers were being treated for heat-related ailments.”

Police first received a report of a car accident near Grove and Lincoln roads shortly before 3:30 p.m., an Allegheny County 911 shift commander said.

Witnesses said they saw the SUV drive down Grove Road at a high rate of speed and go through a stop sign at the Lincoln Road intersection before flying over the hillside.

Penn Hills Fire Department 221 Chief Devin Cummings said the rescue was extremely dangerous because of the terrain and debris from the crash.

“The first 30 feet was a low grade,” he said. “After that, we had about 70 to 80 feet of vertical grade. It was complete debris, so any kind of footing completely fell off. We sent medical personnel and a firefighter over the hill in about 15 minutes.

“The big problem was going to be raising them back up and getting them up safely. The normal raise we would normally do wasn’t feasible. There was also a boat trailer that was pushed over the hillside and it caused a blockage … We ended up doing a vertical lift, which took a while to set up.”

Cummings said three crews were sent through the woods and a creek at the bottom of the hillside trying to get different angles for the rescue.

“Where this car was hung up at was about 40 feet above that on another ridge,” he said. “Any crew I sent down there was unable to make access.”

The man’s vehicle remained over the hill Friday night. It was unclear when it would be removed.

Richard Elliott, 74, lives at the house that was impacted. He told the Tribune-Review that his boat is “all smashed up” and likely will not be pulled up immediately. Elliott said he was unsure what to do about his garage, which sustained heavy damage to its side and rear.

Elliott watched calmly alongside a handful of other curious onlookers as emergency workers from several agencies assisted in the rescue, including police, paramedics and fire departments from Penn Hills, Monroeville and the city of Pittsburgh.

Rescue efforts involved dozens of people and various types of equipment, including a rope rescue team using a relay system from the base of the cliff, and a ladder and pulley system used to bring the man and dog to the top of the hillside.

“Any time you have a rescue operation such as this and the number of rescuers we had on the scene, plus the patients involved, it’s very gratifying to know we didn’t lose any lives today,” Fitzhenry said. “All of the injuries that were sustained were relatively minor. It’s always a good day when everybody can go home to their families. For that, we’re thankful and we’re thankful for all the help that we received from the outside agencies.”

The incident is under investigation.

Staff writer Natasha Lindstrom contributed to this report.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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