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4-year-old in guarded condition after Zoar Valley tragedy that killed parents

[Monday update: Zoar Valley deaths leave family 'with empty hearts and without words']

A couple from South Buffalo died Sunday after an apparent fall from a cliff at Zoar Valley in Cattaraugus County. Their two sons, ages 4 and 7, were airlifted to the hospital, according to the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard identified the couple as William Green, 33, and his wife, Amanda, 35, of Seneca Street.

As of Sunday night Alexander Green, 4, remained in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Women and Children’s Hospital with internal injuries, multiple fractures, and a head injury.

Jacob Green, 7, who was found by a sheriff’s detective, sustained a broken right arm and ankle and is in good condition.

Two people hiking along the creek in the valley part of Zoar spotted the couple and the younger son on a low ledge a few feet above the water at the base of the cliff. Not having a phone with them, they found another hiker who did have a cellphone to call for help at 12:45 p.m.

Erie County Sheriff's Air 1 helicopter and SWAT and rope teams responded, but the adults had already died. The 4-year-old boy was taken by Mercy Flight to Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo, where he was in critical condition. At that point, the older boy had not been found.

Authorities believe the three fell at least 200 feet down a steep cliff covered with trees and brush while camping or hiking in a state-owned section of Zoar Valley. The victims were found in a section of the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area between Unger and Vail roads that features some of the highest cliffs in the entire gorge.

Rescuers realized a fourth family member might have been missing when they found children's sneakers with the family's belongings that were too large for the 4-year-old.

Zoar Valley deaths leave family 'with empty hearts and without words'

As many as 100 people were involved in the search-and-rescue efforts, including firefighters and rappelling teams from Gowanda, Collins, Collins Center and Eden, state police, deputies from Erie and Cattaraugus counties and Department of Environmental Conservation personnel.

An Erie County sheriff's deputy eventually located the 7-year-old walking on the floor of the gorge shortly after 6 p.m., said Scott Zylka, spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators didn't know late Sunday if the older child was with the rest of his family when they fell. Nor do they know yet if he fell down the gorge cliff.

Howard also said it wasn't yet known how long the victims were in the gorge before the hikers found them.

The wild preserve of Zoar Valley is known for both its picturesque beauty and its perilous terrain, which has been the site of several rescues and other incidents in recent years.

In May 2016, two kayakers were reported missing in Zoar Valley, then were found about 11:30 p.m. In 2013, a 16-year-old was rescued after falling into the gorge and breaking her ankle. But in 2010, tragedy struck as noted arts educator Simon P. Griffis  died in a hiking accident there. Also in 2010, a rappel team rescued an 18-year-old college student from the bottom of the gorge after he was knocked unconscious in a 300-foot fall while hunting.

A Lancaster woman suffered serious injuries in 2011 when she and her brother fell while hiking along the gorge. Falls in Zoar Valley also claimed two lives in 2004 and 2005.

"It's a dangerous area. I've worked 40 years in Zoar Valley, and the rescue people know it's dangerous," said Gowanda Fire Chief Nick Crassi, who spent much of Sunday assisting in search-and-rescue efforts. "There's a lot of cliffs and there's no safety devices."

News staff reporter Phil Fairbanks contributed to this story.

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