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Man falls from cliff

August 12, 2009
A northern Indiana man suffered multiple injuries Saturday afternoon when he fell from a cliff about two miles east of Alton along Alton-Fredonia Road while working on the steps of a chain ladder.

Charles Totten, 67, of Michigan City, is transferred to a waiting ambulance Saturday afternoon after falling from a cliff two miles east of Alton. Totten, who suffered multiple fractures, was flown to University Hospital in Louisville. Photo by Wade Bell
Charles Totten, 67, of Michigan City, was working on the ladder across from his vacation residence when he fell nearly 50 feet. He was alone at the time of the fall and was found by his wife, Yong, who called 911.

Rescuers from four counties came to help. Leavenworth volunteer firefighter Gary Wiseman, with his son, Kyle, right behind, was the first to reach Totten at the base of the cliff. Both Wisemans said the conditions they had to work with were anything but easy.

"It was tough, steep, no wind blowing, no air moving, not a lot of room to move," Kyle Wiseman said. "(Totten) went 30 to 40 feet straight vertical, then he probably went another 10 feet on the ground."

Gary Wiseman said Totten had broken bones in his upper leg and wrist and abrasions on his face. Wiseman said he talked with Totten during the entire process of moving him up the steep hill. Totten was immobilized and placed in a stokes basket before being moved.

"He was in good spirits," Gary Wiseman said. "He was a real cowboy. When Kyle told him he would be screaming when he put that traction splint on, I told him I'd give him a bullet to bite on, but I didn't have one in my pocket. He did good; he really did. He was in a lot of pain."

"I didn't know how we were going to get him out," he added. "I said, 'Charlie, you got down here pretty easy. How do you expect us to get you out of here?' He said, 'I don't know. Is it a long way to the river?' I said, 'Yeah, it's a long way to the river.'

"I knew we were going to have to come straight up. I just didn't know exactly how we were going to do it," Wiseman said. "I knew we could get him in a stokes basket, but I didn't know we were going to have all the help that we had. It was great having all these people here."

"He was conscious the whole time," Kyle Wiseman said. "We brought him around the edge, then pretty well straight up from there at an angle. He came up at a gradual grade."

Besides Leavenworth firefighters, who were having a first responder class at the time of the call, emergency personnel from Crawford County EMS, Crawford County EMA, Air-Evac and Crawford County Sheriff's Department, as well as conservation officers from Crawford, Harrison, Floyd and Perry counties, responded to the scene.

The extra manpower, Gary Wiseman said, made removing Totten from the hillside much easier, with six of the rescuers making the climb down to Totten's location. It took more than two hours to remove Totten from the scene to a waiting ambulance. He then was flown to University Hospital.

"We had the people here, and we had the knowledge to do it," Gary Wiseman said. "We had all these (conservation officers) here and everybody, and it was great. Air-Evac came and those guys were great, too. The flight nurse came down to where we were at and helped coordinate getting him in the stokes basket and getting the traction splint put on him and everything to stabilize him to get him out."

Both Wisemans said that because of the number of cliffs in the area, more emphasis will be put into training for these types of emergencies.

"We're going to look at it more now," Kyle Wiseman said. "Normally, we'll have the conservation officers or state troopers to take care of the repelling, but seeing how we were able to get over the bank, there was no repelling to it."

"We're limited on money of what we can do, but as far as working with what we've got, we'll see what we can do," Gary Wiseman said. "We've got a lot of cliffs. When they said he fell over the cliff, there's cliffs all the way from Alton to Leavenworth.

"We need some repelling equipment and things like that in order to get these people out. We need people trained in them," he said. "We're getting some young guys in here now, so that's great."

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