GENESEE FALLS — The emergency distress calls began shortly after 1 p.m., Wednesday. The Livingston County E-911 Center used its latest communications technology to locate a hiker who had taken about a 200-foot fall into the river gorge at the lower falls area of Letchworth State Park in the Wyoming County town of Genesee Falls.
Rescuers, dealing with brutal temperatures and near zero visibility on the snowiest day of winter so far, scrambled to the scene, found the spot where the Niagara County man had fallen, and stayed in contact through messages relayed through emergency dispatchers. There was "a series of calls" as the rescue effort began, a law enforcement official said.
And then, nothing.
"The contact stopped," said Major David Page, commanding officer of the Western District of the New York State Park Police.
Park police on Thursday identified the man who died after falling a day earlier as Stephen Bzibziak, 21, of North Tonawanda. Authorities believe Bzibziak was hiking alone when he fell, and his death is considered accidental.
Members of the State Park Police rope rescue team found the victim in the gorge at about 4:15 p.m.
"We located him Wednesday afternoon, and he had passed away," Page said.
Bzibziak's body was recovered Thursday after operations were halted late Wednesday afternoon "due to nightfall and winter weather conditions," park police said.
An autopsy was to be performed today at the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office in Rochester.
Page said while not all park roads are maintained during the winter, the park is open for cold-weather sports enthusiasts and hikers, who can traverse some 66 miles of trails. Bzibziak fell in a cliff area some 400 feet above the edge of the Genesee River.
The initial rescue operations were carried out in "near zero visibility," according to Page, and he said responders made a highly-coordinated effort to reach Bzibziak.
"We located him as quickly as we could in those conditions," Page said.
State Park Police, State Park Operations crews, Division of State Police Aviation and SORT, Wyoming County Emergency Management, and Adventure Calls Rafting each deployed resources during the recovery.
Bzibziak is the second person in less than three months to die after falling at the park. A state trooper was killed at Letchworth in November during a simulated rescue of a person who had fallen over the side of a cliff.