An SUV driver swerving to avoid striking another vehicle on a highway Friday hit a snowbank along a guardrail and catapulted 60 feet off a bridge. Incredibly, authorities say, the two women inside suffered only minor injuries, and the vehicle landed upright.
The Toyota Rav4 was headed east on Interstate 80 when it plunged off the bridge in Hackensack around 7:15 a.m., police said.
The driver, 25-year-old Elizabeth Wolthoff of Bergenfield, veered sideways after her vehicle was cut off, officials said. The SUV then hit a snowbank that formed after plows had pushed excess snow up against the guardrail.
The SUV flew off the bridge and landed upright beneath the Hackensack River bridge, missing the river by about 40 feet. Wolthoff and her passenger, 25-year-old Rebecca Winslow, also of Bergenfield, called 911.
"The snowbank served almost as a ramp," Hackensack Police Director Michael Mordaga told The Record newspaper. "They're very lucky the way the vehicle landed."
State Police Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Williams said both women were wearing their seat belts.
Firefighter Michael Thomasey, one of about 20 firefighters who responded to the accident, told the newspaper that Winslow asked where she was and remembered the crash.
"I told her: 'You're in Hackensack. Don't worry. We're here. We'll get you out of the car,'" he said. "'Just sit tight. We're going to work for a few minutes. It's going to be noisy. We're going to get you out of here.'"
Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to remove the passenger-side door. They slid Winslow out feet-first and eventually pulled Wolthoff out from underneath the steering wheel, Thomasey said. Both women complained of neck and back pain and were taken to a hospital.
"It's just shocking that you could fall that far in a car and be awake when everybody gets there, telling us what hurts," Thomasey said.