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After 100-foot fall in Emery Park, tot’s rescue was ‘a real teeth-clencher’

The Kenmore parents of a 2½-year-old boy who authorities say miraculously survived a 100-foot fall and was saved with a daring rescue at Emery Park were counting their blessings Wednesday after their son was released from the hospital following an overnight stay.

“He’s good. He’s doing good,” Andrew Coric said of his toddler son, Jack.

Coric did not want to say much about the incident, except that he and Michelle, Jack’s mother, were grateful that their son was doing well.

The mother and son had gone to the South Wales park Tuesday for a walk, with Michelle pushing a stroller and Jack tagging along behind, said Scott R. Patronik, chief of special services with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, and it is believed that Jack got too close to the edge of a steep ravine and tumbled over just after 5 p.m.

Jack rolled down a bed of leaves and soil, past large rocks and tree trunks, landing on the slate bed of a shallow feeder stream to Cazenovia Creek.

The mother was unable to reach her son, but her screams were heard by another county park visitor, who was able to reach the child. Rescuers were called at about 5:15 p.m.

The first emergency responder to reach Jack, an East Aurora police lieutenant, reported that the boy was conscious but had a cut on the back of his head, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Erie County’s Regional Technical Rescue Team, which performs rope rescues, also was deployed. By the time Patronik, a member of the team, arrived at about 5:20, several bystanders and South Wales firefighters had reached Jack.

“We did not have a definitive status on the boy’s condition,” he said, although they feared that he might have suffered a serious spinal injury in the fall.

Although it’s considered a last resort, a decision was made to perform a rope rescue rather than carry Jack out through the ravine.

“The carry-out at this point would have been very treacherous because it was starting to get dark,” Patronik said. “If we followed the creek to a point where you could actually exit on foot, it would have been a long, treacherous carry-out.”

Patronik and Mark F. Hartley, a rescue technician with the East Aurora Fire Department, returned to the scene of the rescue Wednesday and described the process.

A system of ropes and pulleys was anchored to trees at the top of the ravine to lower Deputy Michael J. Okal with a stretcher used to lift victims out of confined spaces. The system was meticulously inspected and tested to ensure that the rescuer didn’t become a victim himself.

Minutes felt like hours to bystanders worried about the boy.

“People have to understand that what we’re doing makes it safe for everybody,” Hartley said. “We have to spend the time to make sure that what we rig is correct and is usable.”

Okal was lowered to the creekbed, where first responders strapped the boy to a backboard and onto the stretcher. He was hauled up top, loaded into a waiting ambulance about 6:25 and driven a short distance to a Mercy Flight helicopter that had landed at a nearby baseball field.

“Every time we heard him cry when he was being loaded into the ambulance to be taken to Mercy Flight, we were glad because that told us he seemed to be aware of his surroundings,” Patronik said.

The boy was flown to Women & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo for treatment and released Wednesday.

The hourlong rescue involved about 20 people, Hartley said. Other agencies that assisted included the South Wales Volunteer Fire Company, Rural/Metro Medical Services, county Park Rangers, county Emergency Services, sheriff’s Air One helicopter and the State Police.

“Everything just kind of clicked,” Hartley said. “We’re very pleased with that. We know our system functions.”

The Regional Technical Rescue Team is made up of members from eight agencies and was created two years ago using $100,000 in grants from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. It also handles swift-water, ice and search and rescue situations.

The team is generally mobilized between two and four times a year, at places such as Emery Park, Zoar Valley and Chestnut Ridge Park, where steep ravines are plentiful.

“People just have to be cautious of that,” Patronik said. “When you visit a park that you know has ravines, you know that there’s drop-offs; just be aware.”

Hartley also had some advice: “Pay attention to what you’re doing, pay attention to what your kids are doing. If you know this is a dangerous spot, don’t take the chance. Everybody likes nature and everybody likes to look over a pretty view, but don’t lose sight of where you are.”

The situation was “a real teeth-clencher,” said Patronik, who called Jack “a lucky little guy.”

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