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Man trapped in a river for days gets rescued; ‘He’s very fortunate,’ say rescuers

Posted at 8:01 PM, Sep 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-13 20:01:28-04

SUFFERN, NEW YORK — He'd sat in a river for days, unseen and unheard by anyone, after falling off a bridge and getting so badly injured that he couldn’t move, or call for help.

Now, the first responders who saved the man’s life talk about how difficult the rescue was and how lucky the man is that he survived.

It took police officers, firefighters and EMTs from across at least four different agencies to save the man. They’d received a call around 2:15 p.m. Thursday saying that a man was in the Mahwah River, about a half mile north of the New York-New Jersey State line.

When rescuers arrived, “The victim was sitting up in the water,” said Chief Clarke Osborn of the Suffern Police Department, “and in order to get to him, [we] had to get him up a steep embankment."

Doing so required about a dozen police officers and firefighters pulling the unidentified man, strapped onto a stretcher, out of a ravine.

The man had fallen from a railroad bridge onto the rocky riverbed below, a drop of at least 40 feet -- the equivalent of falling four or five stories.

"There is no railing," said Mayor Ed Markunas.

The mayor was joined by top police, fire, and EMS at an afternoon news conference on Friday. "Kids go back there, and horse around," the mayor continued, "but this gentleman, unfortunately, fell off the bridge."

The fire department battalion chief elaborated. "He's probably lucky he didn't break anything in his neck or his head," said Ryan Ortiz.

When rescue workers reached the 47 year-old victim, he was dehydrated, they said, despite being in the water. He'd told the first responders he'd been in the ravine for three days. Authorities said that his condition did not make them question the man's account.

"He's very fortunate," said Chief Osborn. "That river looks very small, meek right now. When we have heavy rains, the river gets extremely powerful, extremely strong."

If there had been significant rainfall since the accident, the chief continued, the man could have been "taken downstream and possibly injured worse [than he'd been], or even killed."

The man is recovering at a local hospital. The police chief said that the case is under investigation.