Van plunges off road at monument, stops on cliff

A 34-year-old man drove off a cliff at Colorado National Monument and survived Wednesday night.

His van careened 120 feet into Red Canyon onto a rock overhang about six miles from the east entrance. Officials at the scene said if the van had missed the overhang by 10 feet, it would have plummeted the entire 300 feet to the bottom of the canyon.

“Often you don’t get that second chance (at life). Let’s hope he uses it,” said park superintendent Joan Anzelmo.

The man called 911 from his cell phone after driving off the cliff around 4:30 p.m., and was lucid enough to give officials a general description of where he was.

About 30 rescuers were on scene, as were local law enforcement officers who worked in frigid weather for hours to save the man. Members of the Grand Junction Fire Department and Mesa County Search and Rescue hoisted him to safety using a pulley system. He was trapped in the van until about 6:30 p.m., when he was taken by CareFlight to St. Mary’s Hospital with severe neck and back injuries.

Because of the lack of skid marks at the scene, the angle of the tire marks in the snow embankment and conversations park rangers had with the accident victim, Anzelmo said the crash may have been intentional.

Anzelmo could think of only one other case recently in which a person lived after driving off Rim Rock Drive. Mike Page, spokesman for the Grand Junction Fire Department said it’s been “very rare” in the past 35 years.

Anzelmo said the conditions of Rim Rock Drive, with snow and icy patches in spots, did not contribute to the accident.

Rim Rock Drive is maintained in the winter with snowplows and sand, she said. However, the length of road where the van careened off is considered “non primary,” unlike the stretch of road from the east entrance to the Glade Park exit and from the west entrance to the Visitor’s Center.

“This is not a heavily traveled road in the winter, because it is winter driving conditions,” Anzelmo said.

A tow truck will attempt to remove the van from the monument this morning. There may be morning road closures in the area, Anzelmo said.


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