At Thacher Park: 19-year-old survives 150-foot dead drop

— Screenshot from Facebook page for Albany County Sheriff's Office

Albany County’s search and rescue team hauls a man who fell from the cliff’s edge at Thacher Park to safety.

NEW SCOTLAND — On Saturday, 19-year-old Dylan Dunney, of Guilderland, broke his back, most of his ribs, collapsed his lung, and injured his neck when he slipped off a cliff at John Boyd Thacher State Park, plummeted for 150 feet, crashed into the earth, and then tumbled another 400 feet down the face of the escarpment.

Dunney — a hemophiliac — had surgery on Sunday to stabilize a spinal injury, said Heather Dolin, who spoke to The Enterprise through email on behalf of Dunney’s mother, Sandra de Castro.

“I think the guy had a couple of four-leaf clovers in his pocket because it was unbelievable how the circumstances worked in his favor,” said Dennis Wood, who was part of the search-and-rescue team that pulled off a near-miracle to save Dunney’s life, performing and administering medical treatments it had never before executed in a rescue setting.

“Blood was mixed at Albany Med and brought to the scene were two doctors were able to give my paramedic life-saving instructions, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple wrote Saturday in a post on the Facebook page for Albany County Sheriff's Office.

Dunney had been drinking at a home in Guilderland when he and a friend, Prince Knight IV, 22, decided to go to John Boyd Thacher State Park to watch the sunrise, Albany County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy William Rice told The Enterprise.

Once there, Rice said, Dunney climbed over the stone wall at the park’s overlook viewing area and, while walking alongside the wall, lost his footing, slipped and fell 150 feet, hit the ground and tumbled for another 400 feet.

Knight was charged with trespassing and for supplying alcohol to Dunney, Rice said. The legal drinking age in New York State is 21.

Dunney graduated from Clayton A. Bouton High School in 2018, where he had been an honor roll student, according Dolin. Knight had graduated from the school in 2015. Dunney had just completed his freshman year at the State University of New York Adirondack, a community college in Queensbury, Dolin said, where he had been “focusing” on the culinary-arts program. In May, he began working as a cook at JayCee’s Pizza Depot in Voorheesville, Dolin said.

“The outpouring of support on the GoFundMe page has been incredible,” Dolin wrote. Currently, however, the site has stopped accepting donations so that Dunney’s family can set up a trust account at a local bank, Dolin said; the community will be notified when the site can again accept donations.


“A bizarre, Out-of-the-ordinary experience”

“We’ve trained so much, we know exactly what we have to do to get this guy up, but this one — this one was different,” Wood said, from the rescue itself, to the severity of Dunney’s injuries. Wood is the captain in charge of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Medical Services division.

But before even that, “if there’s a gentleman with any better luck that this guy, then I’d like to meet him,” Wood said, referring to the sequence of events that occurred after the 9-1-1 call had been placed on Saturday morning, June 15.

To start, Wood said, a sheriff’s deputy had been very close by when the call went out at 6:18 a.m., so he was able to quickly get to the park’s overlook area and confirm that Dunney had fallen. That confirmation allowed the search-and-rescue team to mobilize quickly, because two deputies who had been on patrol were also team members and were able to pick up the needed equipment and rescue truck, and head to Thacher Park.

Add to that, Wood said, that so many team members were off duty — and were around — on a Saturday in the summer; “it was just spectacular,” he said.

And it was a good thing that so many members showed up because, just to get to Dunney, two separate climbing systems, called Z-Rigs, had to be set up. The first Z-Rig went from the top of the cliff to the bottom. Then the second one was set up so that rescue workers could rappel down the escarpment, which comes with its own set of challenges.

“People can’t fathom the nightmare below the cliff,” Wood said. The escarpment is on a 70-degree incline, which, he said, “is unbelievably steep; there’s no footing — it’s all loose shale”; rescues are performed on hands and knees. Compounding that problem, he said, is the trash, debris, and shards of glass that have piled up beneath the overlook for decades.

When the search-and-rescue team was finally able to get to Dunney, Wood said, Dunney was conscious but “very, very disoriented.”

When a critically-injured person is being treated under normal circumstances, Wood said, it is happening “in a field, on the back of an ambulance, or in a building — not on a cliff,” where rescue workers have just one free hand to do their job because the other one is holding a rope.

Circumstances such as they were, Wood had thought that not a lot could be done for Dunney — he would end up proving himself wrong.

“This guy had massive airway problems,” Wood said, but nothing could be done for Dunney until the search-and-rescue team had pulled him up the 400 feet of the escarpment.

The team ran into serious problems before even that task could be accomplished.

Soon after the search-and-rescue team had “packaged” Dunney and began pulling him up the escarpment, he became unresponsive. And so, in what Wood described as “probably one of the worst portions of the escarpment,” the team had to stop mid-rescue to ensure that Dunney still had a pulse.

When the team was able to get to the bottom of the cliff, equipment was lowered down so that Dunney could be intubated and placed on a ventilator. He was also in a tremendous amount of pain, Wood said, and the best way to treat that pain is intravenously, so rescuers placed Dunney on an IV.

“These are certain things you don’t normally do in that type of situation,” Wood said. The more normal procedure is to “package” the injured person and treat him at the top of the overlook. But, Wood said, “This was a bizarre, out-of-the-ordinary experience and things had to be done down there.”

As if the rescue hadn’t been harrowing enough to that point, the team still had to pull Dunney up the cliff, which provided a whole new set of problems.

Normally, when an injured person in on a ventilator, he would be pulled up in what Wood called “the horizontal position,” where a rescue worker would be tied to the injured person as an added precaution. The horizontal position, however, could not be used, Wood said, because there was a 90-degree angle in the cliff that Dunney kept getting caught on.

So Dunney had to be lowered back down and placed in what Wood called a “vertical maneuver,” which is a much easier way to rescue someone; however, no rescue worker was tied to Dunney for the 30 minutes it took to pull him up the cliff. But a rescue worker was stationed at the top of the overlook, Wood said, ready to rappel down should something happen.

“It was an unthinkable scenario; the team did the most amazing job I’ve ever seen in my life,” Wood said. “Everybody always preaches teamwork; well, this was teamwork a million times over.”

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