A motorist who drove off the Ortega (74) Highway just west of Lake Elsinore and plunged down a steep embankment Tuesday was rescued after an air-ground operation that prompted closure of a stretch of the highway.

The California Highway Patrol received the “vehicle-over-the-side report” about 4:15 p.m. on the eastbound side of Ortega Highway, just below the Lookout Roadhouse turnoff, according to the agency.

Riverside County Fire Department crews were sent to the area and began an hourlong search, unable to locate the sedan from the side of the highway because of dense vegetation in the Cleveland National Forest.

A sheriff’s helicopter crew overflew the location and spotted the back of the vehicle 400 feet below the highway, culminating in first responders conducting a hoist rescue using a Cal Fire helicopter.

About 5:25 p.m., CHP officers and sheriff’s deputies closed down both sides of the highway, bringing rush-hour traffic to a halt, between South Main Divide Road to the west and Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore to the east. The closure was required to give firefighters adequate space to conduct the rescue safely, according to the fire department.

Shortly after 6 p.m., the victim was freed from the vehicle and hoisted by the helicopter crew to an ambulance standing by on the roadway, officials said.

The motorist, whose name was not released, suffered moderate injuries and was taken to Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar for treatment. There was no word on why the driver veered off the highway.

The rescue operation concluded by 6:30 p.m., when both sides of the highway were re-opened.

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