A group of young adults traversing along the shore of Lake Erie were rescued Friday after waters turned rough and trapped them against the cliffs.
According to Dunkirk Fire Department Capt. Allen Loeb, a call for help was received around 4:20 p.m. of five individuals trapped at a small cove against the Lake Erie cliffsides. There was initial confusion as to the exact location, but a second call confirmed the victims were at Battery Point.
Emergency crews set up a base of operations at the City of Dunkirk Water Pollution Control Facility next to Wright Park. Reaching the victims from land required a walk of about one-half mile along narrow trails to the clifftop about 50 feet above. Equipment was carried in by hand, as the route was inaccessible to ATVs.
Rescuers at first tried to reach the victims by boat, but the maneuver was deemed too risky due to the strength of the waves and fears the boat could collide with the cliff face.
"They did send a swimmer from the boat that reached the victims, initially, and then we lowered a radio and life vests to them and he stayed with the victims," Loeb said.
Rescuers decided to lift the victims one-by-one up the cliff, requiring the help of the Chautauqua County High Angle Rescue team and a small amount of preparation.
OBSERVER Photo by Matt Panebianco
Two females and three males were rescued Friday night by the Dunkirk Fire Department and other agencies after being trapped at a small cove against the Lake Erie cliffsides.
"You need to have two substantial objects to tie off to and there were two good-sized trees back there, but some brush had to be cleared by saws," Loeb said.
The first victim returned to the base shortly before 7 p.m., wrapped in a towel and walking without assistance. The final victim lifted out of the cove returned about an hour later. None of the five individuals - two females and three males - appeared to require any major treatment; the only outward sign of injury being a bandage wrapped around one victim's knee. They also visually appeared to be in good spirits following their rescue, talking with each other outside the ambulances after being reunited.
Loeb said the main health concern during the rescue had been hypothermia. Although the victims were not treading water, they were still wet, and rescuers kept tabs on the weather. A combined air and water temperature of 140 degrees, Loeb said, is a rough measure of the danger zone where hypothermia may begin to set in.
"We checked with the weather service; we have a water temperature of 68 (degrees) and we started out with an air temperature of around 86 and dropped to around 78," Loeb said near the end of the rescue. "So we're at a combined temperature of 146 but we're approaching that 140 threshold."
In all, the Dunkirk Fire Department and Dive Team, Fredonia Fire Department, Chautauqua County Technical Rescue Team, Chautauqua County Dive Team, Alstar Ambulance Services and the Dunkirk Police Department responded to the rescue. Crews were also in contact with the Coast Guard, although its services did not turn out to be needed.
Dunkirk City Mayor Richard Frey visited the scene twice through the course of the incident, before and after the victims were rescued, and could be seen having a brief conversation with a few of the victims. Only officials and emergency responders were allowed inside the grounds of the water pollution control facility for security concerns.
A total of seven individuals were in the group along the Lake Erie shore, two of whom did not require rescue. A representative of the Dunkirk Police Department said names would likely not be released Friday night and that one member of the group is a minor. There was also no word Friday night as to whether members of the group may face any charges.