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A crowd gathers on West Cliff to watch as the fall victim is lifted to a waiting ambulance on Sunday. (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- A man fell 15 to 18 feet from a cliff just off West Cliff Drive on Sunday morning.

While the cause of the incident is under investigation, witnesses said no one pushed the man off the cliff, said Santa Cruz police Lt. Colleen McMahon.

"We're not really sure how this all happened, but maybe he ran and jumped off," McMahon said. "We really don't know at this point if it was accidental or not."

The man's injuries were unknown Sunday night, said Santa Cruz Fire Battalion Chief Jason Hajduk, but the victim was airlifted to Stanford Hospital.

The fall occurred around 11:30 a.m. at West Cliff Drive and Fair Avenue, Hajduk said. Bystanders reported the man unconscious and breathing in a pocket cove below the cliff, Hajduk said. A team of 13 firefighters rescued the man.

"Unfortunately, he fell on a set of rocks as opposed to the sand five feet over," Hajduk said.

Santa Cruz Fire undertakes multiple cliff rescues per year, Hajduk said.

"The cliff edge can be unstable, so use caution," Hajduk said.

Follow Sentinel reporter Bonnie Horgos on Twitter at Twitter.com/bhorgos