Man rescued after 4 days at bottom of canyon

April 29, 2011 11:59:52 PM PDT
East Bay firefighters rescued a 53-year-old man Friday morning who had been trapped in his car for four days after he drove his late model Honda Civic off a windy road and down a steep hill in Tilden Park.

James Wright's family had reported him missing on Monday. Wright told his rescuers he had been out on his morning drive through the Berkeley Hills when his vehicle careened down the cliff.

An alert East Bay Regional Park ranger noticed something "was not right" when he was making his morning rounds on Grizzly Peak Blvd. He looked over the cliff and spotted the car which firefighters say was about 150 feet down the ridge. Investigators said the car skidded about 200 yards before going off the road the road and plunging down the cliff.

East Bay Regional Parks fire units responded as well as Berkeley Fire and Oakland Fire and police. Rescuers repelled down the cliff and fastened Wright into a basket. It took about 45 minutes to pull him up to safety.

It could have been different if 29-year-old park ranger Dave Flores hadn't spotted the sun's reflection off the car's roof. He ran down to the vehicle.

"And there was a guy in the car and I opened the door and he was OK and he said, 'Hi,'" said Flores who was relieved Wright was not hurt. "He seemed really tired, thirsty, that was the main thing, he wanted a sip of water."

Batt. Chief Robert Lipp told ABC7 News it was a difficult rescue because of the dense vegetation and steep terrain. He said the man seemed to be coherent but dehydrated after three days without water.

"It was a sort of complicated involved extrication due to the amount of scrub, it's very thick and dense and tall scrub brush through the area and it was a very high-angle rescue to get the patient out," said Lipp.

Wright was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland, and according to firefighters, did not appear to be seriously injured.

Lipp said Wright did not seem seriously injured but was very dehydrated. Wright was taken to Highland Hospital for evaluation, but was later released Friday evening.

When asked for a comment, he declined to talk about his ordeal. Wright teaches science at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. His neighbors were surprised to hear he was even missing.

"I'm surprised that he was driving around because he's a walker, he's always walking around," said neighbor Grace Murdock.

El Cerrito police are glad he's OK, but want to know what happened.

"I imagine the detectives will still do some follow up and try to contact him and ask him exactly what happened," said El Cerrito Police Cpl. Dave Wentworth.

Flores says he doesn't consider himself a hero for finding Wright. He was just doing his job.

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