Crews rescue trucker stuck for 24-plus hours in remote ravine

SAN DIEGO — Emergency services crews worked through the morning to rescue a long-distance trucker who had fallen about 300 feet into a steep roadside ravine near Alpine and remained stranded there for more than 24 hours.

The events that led to the lifesaving operation began about 5:30 a.m., when authorities got a request from the overdue big-rig driver’s employers to look for him in an area where his vehicle’s GPS tracker showed he had stopped.

Deputies found the tractor-trailer parked at a scenic rest area alongside eastbound Interstate 8 between Willows and Japatul Valley roads, sheriff’s Sgt. Howard Kluge said. The engine of the rig was still running, its headlights were on, and the 43-year-old driver’s wallet and cellphone remained in the cab,

Concerned that the man might have suffered a medical emergency and fallen down the rugged sloping terrain alongside the lot, deputies called in a sheriff’s helicopter and search-and-rescue team, as well as a Border Patrol agent with a tracking dog.

After scanning the area from above for about 30 minutes, the air crew spotted the victim at the bottom of the ravine, near a creek bed, Kluge said.

Personnel with the Alpine Fire Protection District and Cal Fire hiked into the gorge and treated the disoriented driver at the scene for exposure and dehydration. They were all then hoisted out by the helicopter.

Following a five-hour search-and-rescue effort, the victim was taken to Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa for evaluation and further medical care.

It was determined that the man, whose name was not released, had been stuck in the ravine for more than a day, Kluge said. It was unclear why he had walked to the edge of the sheer hillside and lost his footing.

The trucker, who was carrying an Ohio ID, was hauling a load of tools at the time of the accident, the sergeant said.