LIVERMORE -- A man clinging to the roof of his pickup truck after becoming stranded in rushing floodwater was saved in a daring rescue by a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew, authorities said.
The episode began around 7 p.m. Sunday in Del Valle Regional Park when a 58-year-old Livermore resident was driving on Del Valle Road, about a mile past the main entrance, toward a ranch and saw his truck quickly overwhelmed by a storm-swelled creek.
"He routinely drives that road, and when water comes on it, he usually crosses it. The depth of the water took him by surprise," said Officer Jan Sears, who works at the CHP's air division based in Napa.
At one point the water rose so high the top of the truck cab was the only thing protruding, the last refuge for the driver. He contacted his daughter, who called authorities.
By that time the truck had been carried several hundred yards downstream, according to the CHP. The Alameda County Fire Department, Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department, East Bay Regional Parks Police and an ambulance all went to the scene, but they could not get close to the stranded vehicle. Specially trained "swift water" rescue swimmers made several attempts, but the water was too deep and moving too fast.
They called for air support from the CHP around 9:20 p.m. The Napa-based officer crew of pilot Pete Gavitte and paramedic Matt Gutierrez made the 20-minute flight to Livermore.
Gavitte and Gutierrez performed what is known as a "one skid" rescue where the Gavitte carefully placed one of the helicopter skids on the still-exposed truck cab to stabilize it. The challenge is to maneuver so that the weight of the helicopter isn't resting on the truck but is still keeping contact. It makes for a small margin of error given the relatively small size of the exposed truck roof already occupied by a stranded driver weary from the elements.
"The pilot and the officer have to work together. There's a lot of verbal communication," Sears said.
Gutierrez got hold of and secured the driver, who was flown to the creek bank to waiting emergency crews. They treated him for hypothermia and took him to the hospital.
Sears said the flight crews train routinely for this type of operation, and that Gavitte and Gutierrez are veteran flight officers with an array of rescues under their belts. The CHP performs between two and four rescues a month and officers are generally geared for swift-water rescues during the winter months.
"It's about keeping our focus," Sears said. "This is what we train for."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.