5 rescues from the same spot last summer and 4 fatalities since 77? ... thats likely more than some climbing spots ...
proper gear, technique or just bad luck for these accidents? ... seems quite dangerous
It had all the elements of disaster: a wintry chill, a steep and slippery trail, a 50-foot fall into icy waters.
But thanks to the quick thinking of a good Samaritan, a hiker who fell at Glen Onoko Falls near Jim Thorpe on Tuesday afternoon may very well look back on the accident with gratitude.
Hiking with a group of friends at the popular but treacherous trail, Jim Thorpe resident Robert Bilardo slipped on ice and slid about 50 feet into the creek below, hitting his head, friends said.
Friend Kris Cozad also slipped but avoided serious injury. Looking over, he saw his friend lying in the creek, a gash running across his head.
"I just screamed for help," Cozad said.
John Spanogle answered. Spanogle, an emergency medical technician at St. Luke's Hospital-Fountain Hill and also a nursing student, happened to be hiking along the falls with a group of friends. Hearing the cries, he climbed down to help, pulling Bilardo out of the creek with the help of two others.
Spanogle then cut Bilardo's clothes off, had a friend lie against him and piled on jackets, doing everything he could to keep the drenched man warm. Another friend called police around 2:30 p.m.
The first team of EMTs didn't take long to arrive, Cozad said. But there's no doubt in his mind it would have already been over for his friend if Spanogle hadn't climbed down to help.
"If it wasn't for him, I think he might have died," he said.
Spanogle was more modest.
"I knew what to do and I did it," he said. "Anyone could have done it."
Bilardo was eventually brought to the head of the trail by emergency responders shortly before 5 p.m. From there, he was flown to St. Luke's. A hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday night she had no information on Bilardo.
The rescue was made more risky by the rough terrain and cumbersome rescue equipment, Jim Thorpe Fire Department Chief Bill Diehm said.
He estimated it took more than an hour for the main rescue team to reach Bilardo -- and that didn't include the difficult journey back, passing Bilardo's stretcher along the trail hand-over-hand.
But this type of rescue is old hat for Diehm. This summer, his crew performed five other rescues at the falls.
Glen Onoko Falls is on state game lands near Lehigh Gorge State Park. The falls begin as a mountain spring, eventually forming a stream between 10 and 20 feet wide, according to the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor website.
As water cascades 875 feet down, it gushes over rocks and cliffs, forming several falls. The largest drop is about 75 feet, the website says. Even in the summer, the water is a chilly 55 degrees.
Glen Onoko has been the scene of many accidental falls as hikers traverse the steep 1.7-mile loop. Several of them were fatal.
In June 2009, an Allentown man was seriously injured when he fell 10 feet from a cliff along the trail into the water. Though it was only June, it was one of at least four rescues that year.
A 17-year-old fell to his death while hiking in 1999 -- less than two weeks after another hiker was seriously injured in a fall.
In 1997, a 26-year-old Slatington man slipped and fell from a rocky ledge, another fatal accident. Four other hikers since 1977 have died in falls.
Hikers at the trail are greeted by a sign warning them that sections of the trail are steep and treacherous. The sign says hikers have been seriously injured and killed as a result of accidental falls from the trail and gorge overlooks.
"Hike at your own risk," a warning sign at the head of the trail reads.