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Children rescued after Rachel Carson Trail fall

| Monday, March 16, 2009

Five children were rescued from a steep hillside overlooking the Allegheny River on Sunday afternoon after they plunged 75 feet from a rugged park trail in Harrison.

The children were hiking a section of the Rachel Carson Trail in Harrison Hills Park about 1:45 p.m. when they fell to a plateau below, according to Harrison Hills Fire Rescue Chief Ed Naughton.

"They had some pretty severe injuries," Naughton said. None are believed to be life-threatening.

At least one child had a head injury. The others suffered broken bones and cuts, Naughton said. Three were flown to Pittsburgh-area hospitals; the remaining two were driven by ambulance to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison.

Naughton said it's unclear whether a section of the trail gave way or if the group had veered off the path.

At least one victim had a cell phone and called 911. Dispatchers were able to gather global-positioning coordinates from the phone to direct rescuers to a remote section of the 500-acre Allegheny County-owned park. Firefighters estimated the children were a mile from the closest paved road, making them difficult to find.

Crews searched from the park and a Freeport Road trailhead near Route 908 before determining the easiest way to access the victims was from Norfolk Southern's riverside railroad tracks at the base of the bluff.

Naughton said the children were perched about 200 feet above the tracks, although the hillside below them wasn't as steep as the drop from above.

Rescuers used ropes and Stokes baskets, a type of caged stretcher, to lower the children to the tracks. They then were driven along the rail bed to Freeport, where medical helicopters landed.

Naughton said the children had called their parents, who arrived at the scene by the end of the two-hour ordeal.

The children's identities were not released; Naughton said all they were boys and girls of various ages, all younger than 18.

Naughton said firefighters from department, located within sight of the park, practice rappelling on the steep park hillside, which overlooks the River Forest section of Allegheny Township in Westmoreland County.

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