A Kelso woman sick with the flu and disorientated in the dark thought she was going to die Tuesday night as she accidentally drove off a cliff at the north end of Minor Road.
"I thought 'Dear God, I'm dead,'" Jeanne Massey said Wednesday afternoon about the moment her Mazda Tribute SUV started tipping down over the cliff's edge. "I can't believe it happened."
Massey, 52, wasn't feeling well when she drove her son to work but thought she could make it back to her West Kelso home. Instead she got lost and ended up on Minor Road in North Kelso at 10:30 p.m. As she tried to turn around, witnesses said it looked like Massey was putting the car in park when it inched forward and over the bank, according to a Kelso police report.
"I just got lost," Massey said. "It was dark and I didn't know where I was. ... And I just went down the hill."
Massey's SUV went about 100 feet down the cliff before it was stopped by some boulders and a small tree.
The SUV came to rest on a very steep slope, so rescue crews from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue and the Longview Fire Department technical rescue team had to use ropes to descend to the vehicle, said Cowlitz 2 Chief Dave LaFave.
"There's no way you could walk down or up (the side of the cliff) without assistance," LaFave said.
After stabilizing the SUV, crews then worked to free Massey from the vehicle. She had a lot of items in the SUV, which LaFave said had to be cleared away before Massey could be extracted.
Massey was strapped into a hard-frame stretcher and hauled back up the cliff using a pulley system. It took about an hour and a half to get back up to the top of cliff.
Massey said the crews did a "great job" helping her, but the crash and rescue left her in a lot of pain Wednesday. In addition to ongoing back and neck problems and fibromyalgia, Massey's air bags didn't inflate so the steering wheel struck her in the chest. She also has "cuts and bruises and scrapes all over," she said.
Massey was treated and released at Peacehealth St. John Medical Center on Tuesday night. Her SUV was towed, but as of Wednesday afternoon she didn't yet know what shape it was in, although she said she's assuming the vehicle is a total loss.
Rescue crews occasionally have to use ropes and pulleys to respond to logging or off-road accidents, but LaFave said their use still is pretty rare. As for the crash, he said that while accidents happen, motorists should always be extra careful when driving in the dark, especially if they're unfamiliar with the area.