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March 20, 2014

One killed, one hurt when car goes off Arizona highway, tumbles down 200-foot cliff

TORTILLA FLAT, Ariz. — A car went off an Arizona highway and tumbled down a 200-foot cliff early Wednesday, killing a University of Oklahoma student from China and injuring another, authorities said.

The BMW sedan apparently was traveling too fast to make a curve on state Route 88 as the students took a late-night drive to see the desert and gaze at stars, officials said. The narrow, twisting two-lane highway is in extremely rugged terrain in the Tonto National Forest east of the Phoenix area.

The injured passenger was able to yell and get the attention of two friends in another vehicle who called 911, said Colin Williams, spokesman for Rural Metro Fire Department. A rescue crew used a basket to carry the passenger out and take him to a hospital, but the driver was dead, Williams said.

Details on the passenger’s injuries were not immediately available.

According to Williams, the vehicle went over a 100-foot embankment that was angled at 45 degrees and filled with cactus, boulders and rocks. From there, the car dropped another 100 feet straight down.

“It’s a treacherous road in the best of conditions. There are some very tight blind corners,” Williams said.

The students, whose school is on spring break, were in the Phoenix area to visit a friend at Arizona State University. The two friends in the other vehicle were also Chinese students from the University of Oklahoma, said Bart Graves, an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman.

Catherine Bishop, a spokeswoman for the University of Oklahoma, said the school was working with authorities to determine the victims’ identities and notify their families.

Authorities have recovered the body of the dead student from the canyon, but the terrain is so difficult to reach that two vehicles from previous accidents are still there because authorities weren’t able to remove them, Williams said.

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