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Family of man saved from Zoar Valley gorge gives back; Carrieros present $9,180 to responders to replace equipment used in the rescue

Kelly Carriero is still thanking the emergency responders who rescued her son from the Zoar Valley gorge last November.

"We definitely can't pay you back for his life," she told members of the State Police, Erie County Sheriff's Office and the Gowanda Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday.

So the Carrieros -- Kelly; her husband Andy; daughter, Jessica; and son, Drew -- held a fundraiser last month to help replace some of the equipment that was used in the rescue.

They presented the funds -- $9,180 -- to representatives of the groups Tuesday afternoon. The Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Fire Department also will receive some money.

The hot sunny field at Gowanda Elementary School on Aldrich Street where they gathered Tuesday afternoon was in stark contrast to the cold, rainy gorge a few miles away, where the responders first met Drew Carriero on Nov. 22.

That was where Erie County Sheriff's Air One Capt. Kevin Caffery and Tactical Flight Officer Art Litzinger found Carriero after he fell 400 feet over the cliff when he was hunting. And that was where six members of the State Police Special Operation Response Team rappelled to the floor of the gorge overnight and hauled up Drew and a rescue team that got trapped with him in the rising waters of Cattaraugus Creek.

The dramatic, high-angle rescue was "business as usual" for them, based on their training, said Sgt. Michael Wolniewicz, head of the West Region SORT team. But the changing dynamics of the situation and the weather were challenging.

"It was one of the best details I've been on in 15 years," he said. "We took the skill set we had and just applied it."

The connections made that night have continued.

Since his rescue, Drew has joined the Gowanda Fire Company, and he and the company have started training for rope rescues with the State Police. Firefighters will start training soon for water rescue.

"We keep getting more calls down there," said Fire Company Treasurer Stacey Raiport. "We've had a lot more people survive that we need to go down and get."

All the agencies needed to replace ropes that were used and stretched, or other equipment that had to be left behind in the rescue.

"We're going to get some white water rescue outfits, and we're looking into getting any kind of gear that will help us with our future rescues," Raiport said.

Drew, who suffered a broken leg, fractures to his skull and orbital bones around his eye and a shoulder dislocation, said he's back running and has no ill effects from his fall. But he does think about the several hours he spent in the creek, waiting to be rescued.

"Oh yeah, it goes through my head every day," he said. "It was more scary just sitting there, not being able to move. ... I just kept yelling for help."

He's returning to Jamestown Community College at the end of August, and after earning his associate degree, he probably will attend Buffalo State College. He's interested in a career in law enforcement.

Caffery said there is a Zoar Valley rescue bag in Air One. The donation will help pay for a new rescue harness, straps and signal flares.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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