SANDY, Ore. -- First responders didn’t mince words Thursday.
“This almost never happens,” said Sandy Fire & Rescue Division Chief Scott Howland.
He was talking about a reunion, four months in the making, between Bill Crane and about a dozen first responders with Sandy Fire & Rescue.
They met for the first time one night back in July, when Crane fell off a 40-foot cliff in the remote Sandy wilderness. He’d been camping alone.
“I'd spent many nights there before. I set up my camp, and I don't remember anything after that,” said Crane, a New Jersey-to-Oregon transplant and veteran of the U.S. Navy.
Crane told reporters Thursday he assumes he fell, simply because it was dark. Regardless, his injuries were serious.
“I was unconscious for I don't know how long. My head was bleeding,” he recalled.
Doctors would later tell him he’d broken three ribs, three vertebrae and his pelvis. Crane laid there in pain all night.
“I have to say I've never been so scared in all my life, that night alone on the rocks not knowing if I was going to make it,” he said.
It wasn’t until around 7 a.m. that his luck changed. A fisherman named Jeff spotted Crane lying on the rocks below that steep drop-off. He called 911.
“I know he wants to remain anonymous, but happy Thanksgiving to you, Jeff,” Crane said smiling.
Crews with Sandy Fire & Rescue say the mission was tough. Weather thwarted an attempt to bring a Life Flight helicopter to Crane’s location. They ended up using a complicated rope system to pull Crane, on a stretcher, up the cliffside to safety.
“We always have contingency plans,” said Chief Scott Howland. “The access in that canyon, comparatively, was pretty good for us.”
Today, Crane is still in recovery. He estimates that will last about a year.
The husband and father makes a living as a landscaper. He hopes to work again soon and, eventually, volunteer with the Sandy Fire Department.
In the meantime, Thursday, one week before Thanksgiving, he made the trip to Sandy’s Fire & Rescue offices to thank those who put their lives at risk to save his.
“I wonder if anyone’s wondering what I’m thankful for,” he said. “I'm thankful to be here most importantly, and I wouldn't be here if it weren't for these brave young men and women.”