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Driver rescued after car plunges off cliff near Lake Superior

Rescuers pull up a man Tuesday after his car crashed through a guardrail and plunged off a cliff, coming to rest just a few feet from Lake Superior. Ken Greshowak

DULUTH — A car crashed through a guardrail, plunged about 60 feet off a cliff, bounced off a boulder and came to rest just a few feet from Lake Superior. The driver then sat helpless for hours in freezing temperatures, until the wreck was spotted by a good Samaritan early Tuesday morning, according to authorities and the witness.

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Authorities did not identify the man or list his condition, but witness Ken Greshowak, who was the first person on the scene, said the man was awake and alert as he was taken to the hospital.

“He was talking, they put blankets on him,” Greshowak said. “He wasn’t screaming in pain. I think the cold was his biggest enemy.”

Greshowak, of Duluth, said he was leaving for work at about 7 a.m. when he noticed that the guardrail outside his house was smashed. Thinking somebody must have struck it overnight, he nearly left the scene before he happened to notice the seriously damaged car at the bottom of the hill.

“I thought somebody could be down there, so I yelled, and this guy lifts his head up out of the window,” Greshowak said. “The adrenaline immediately started running.”

Greshowak said he quickly called 911 and took a path down the cliff to reach the car. There, he said, he found the man sitting in the passenger seat wearing a T-shirt. The man was bloodied and appeared dazed, giving garbled responses to questions.

Greshowak speculated that the man may have taken his own coat off after suffering the effects of hypothermia. Temperatures dropped as low as 17 below zero overnight in Duluth.

“I threw my coat around him and started talking with him, telling him he would be OK until the rescue crews arrived,” he said. “It only took them about 10 or 12 minutes to get there.”

Greshowak said it appears the man was there for at least a few hours, if not all night. With the morning’s frigid temperatures, he said there likely weren’t many joggers on the normally well-traveled road.

The Duluth Fire Department reported that the car’s engine was cold to the couch when crews arrived, indicating he had been there for some time. The temperature was 13 below at the time.

Rescue crew members placed the man on a stretcher and used a rope system to pull him up to the roadside. He was taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital. The car also had been removed within a few hours.

Greshowak said he had a hard time believing what he saw as crews hoisted the man up the cliff with a backdrop of the sun rising over Lake Superior.

“It was kind of chaotic,” he said. “It was a surreal scene.”