Mammoth multi-agency rescue as car plunges from clifftop

Mammoth multi-agency rescue as car plunges from clifftop

03/07/2023, 3:00 PM

Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) volunteers, along with Victoria Police, Country Fire Authority (CFA), Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV), and Ambulance Victoria (AV) were called out to the scene of a single vehicle crash shortly after 6:00pm on Sunday 2 July, 10kms south of Harrietville. The vehicle, with five people on board, had plunged over the side of the road halfway down Mt Hotham.

VICSES Technical Rescue crew member working with other agencies (photo credit: VICSES)

Arriving within thirty minutes, the VICSES Bright Unit crew - led by VICSES Technical Rescue Commander Marcus Warner - brought a high angle rescue cache, equipped with the technical rescue equipment required to extricate a casualty from any steep environment. The volunteers towed the cache on a trailer, attached to an Alpine response vehicle specially adapted for the conditions.

When the volunteers arrived they could hear the cries below for help, approximately fifty metres from the vehicle. With a crew from CFA Bright Fire Brigade already in position on the road, the volunteers rigged up an anchor system from the fire truck. Two VICSES Bright Unit members donned harnesses and went over the edge to the crash scene, more than 100 metres below.

VICSES, CFA, and FRV staff and volunteers work together to support the technical rescue team, 2 July 2023 (photo credit: VICSES)

Once descended to the scene, Rope Rescue Operator James Hanekroot was met by a paramedic, CFA member, and family members as well as occupants of the vehicle.

The multi-agency crew took the decision to transport walking wounded first - including children - on a system of ropes the crew had constructed, to avoid the debris field between the vehicle and the clifftop.

Four operators were lowered to the crash site to mount the more seriously injured occupants on to spinal boards.

Wirth conditions deteriorating, the window of opportunity to convey the most seriously injured to the waiting air ambulance was closing. However, the volunteer crew were able to complete the rescue within the twenty minutes they had left before the air ambulance would have needed to relocate further up the mountain.

Once the air ambulance had lifted off with its precious cargo, the volunteers re-rigged the stretcher to convey additional equipment to the crash site to stabilise the car, to complete the final extrication. As the vehicle had crashed bonnet-first into a creek, the casualty was behind the back wheel, finally being freed after 25 minutes of intensive work with cutting tools.

Once the rescue party, which included VICSES, FRV, and CFA volunteers - as well as AV paramedics - packed and transported their equipment back along the series of ropes in backpacks, Victoria Police reopened the road which had been closed for five hours.

VICSES, CFA, and FRV staff and volunteers work together to support the technical rescue team, 2 July 2023 (photo credit: VICSES)

Congratulations to our VICSES volunteers and to the whole crew for their extraordinary public service, in the most challenging of environments.

Quotes attributable to VICSES Technical Rescue Commander, Marcus Warner:

“We work hard to manage the entire scene, and train for this at the unit, so to shield bystanders from further trauma. This includes their physical well-being, so they are given blankets and welcomed into the vehicles. We also had additional people to drive the family down and off the mountain.”

“The seamless work between our agencies was fantastic.”


The high angle rescue cache used by the VICSES volunteers can be deployed throughout the region and is interoperable for use by other rescue agencies, such as CFA, FRV, and Victoria Police Search and Rescue.

To read more stories about our work in Road Crash Rescue (RCR), click here.