ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Firefighters and rescue workers performed a complex operation to rescue a truck driver who had fallen 75 feet from the I-85 bridge in Rowan County Wednesday morning.
It happened just after 2:30 a.m.
Rescue officials say the incident began when a car hydroplaned and struck the side of the northbound bridge over the Yadkin River in Rowan County.
Two FedEx contract truck drivers stopped to help the stranded motorist. Moments later, they saw a tractor-trailer heading towards them. Fearing that the truck would not get stopped in time, one of the drivers jumped over the bridge, possibly thinking it was a concrete median. That driver, now identified as Jeremiah Cribb, fell 75 feet to a dirt bank.
"When I realized he was going to hit the car, I just reacted on instinct. It’s pitch black dark. I thought I was hopping over a median,” Cribb told WBTV. “I just started free-falling.”
Firefighters from the Miller’s Ferry and Salisbury Fire Departments, and rescue workers from Rowan Rescue, had to rappel down to where the victim had landed.
“He thought that he was jumping into a grass median that was at the same height an realized of course that it was not, and fell 75 feet to the position where we found him," said Nick Martin of the Salisbury Fire Department.
Jacob Vodochodsky is the firefighter you rappelled his way down to Cribb, who was lying on the sand.
“I checked to see if he had a concussion or anything because he had no idea where he was at," Vodochodsky said.
Vodochodsky was able to get Cribb into a harness and lift him back to the bridge.
“He didn’t know what happened,” Vodochodsky said. “He had no clue where he was at. We shared a couple of personal moments and let him know he was alright. We kept telling him he was doing great and we’d get him out of there.”
Cribb was taken to the hospital, but was reported to be conscious and alert.
Cribb was then taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He said he had three fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.
“It’s very challenging, there’s a lot of unknowns going on, certainly a significant speed challenge to make sure you get to this person and rescue them as quickly as possible," Martin added.
In a phone interview from his hospital room, Cribb told WBTV that he was very grateful to the firefighters and rescue workers who were able to save him.
Cribb added that he stopped to help the stranded driver because “that’s my nature, to help people.”
Rowan Emergency Services head Chris Soliz said the rescue was a good example of what can be accomplished when agencies collaborate. That’s an effort the county is working to improve with a new program beginning later in the spring.
“This particular incident is just a testament to the teamwork and cooperation that really is a hallmark of emergency services in Rowan County,” Soliz said.