Technical rescue saves Va. cyclist after bridge fall

By Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer
The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The reeds grow thick under the Pungo Ferry Bridge, and the marsh ground underneath them is soft and soggy from recent rain.

Elliott Craddock can be grateful for that.

The 18-year-old cyclist took a tumble off the concrete span Sunday morning, falling what rescuers estimate was 35 to 50 feet to the marsh below. He came out of it with a fractured shoulder blade — and not much more.

"The reeds, the foot of water, the mush underneath — all of that served to break his fall," said the young man 's father, Jeff Craddock. "I am amazed, truly, that he landed where he did."

Firefighters received a call around 8:20 a.m. reporting that a cyclist riding from the Pungo area of Virginia Beach to the Blackwater area had fallen off the bridge.

Elliott Craddock, an experienced bike racer, crossed the bridge often on training rides, his father said.

This time, though, he was riding in a group, and not long after the group crested the bridge, another rider hit Craddock from behind, said Virginia Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Hedley Austin.

Craddock turned to the right, struck the bridge's concrete barrier and pitched over it.

"One of them just kind of touched the other, and that was it," Austin said. "It happened quickly."

By the time the other riders had stopped and run over to the side of the bridge to look for Craddock, he was back on his feet, telling them he was all right, his father said. He managed to climb up onto one of the bridge's pilings to wait to be rescued.

Firefighters rappelled down, administered care, then strapped Craddock into a harness and lifted him back up using one of their truck's cranes. He was taken to Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital for treatment.

There was an indent in the ground more than half a foot deep to mark the spot where Craddock landed, Austin said.

Jeff Craddock said his son had a headache, probably from a mild concussion; was covered in cuts and scratches from landing in the reeds; and was sore from his body tensing up as he flew through the air.

But other than that, "he's pretty much fine," he said. The rescue workers, he said, "were just amazing."

Austin said firefighters often train for "technical rescues" — rescues in unusual locations or circumstances — but executing them is rare.

"It's a procedure you practice day in and day out so that when it happens, hey, you're ready," he said.

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