SEATTLE — Swept down one waterfall and about to plunge over a much larger one, a 13-year-old boy managed to climb onto a 1-foot-wide rock shelf in a gushing Washington state river — and then stayed there for eight and a half hours until rescuers finally saved him early Sunday, sheriff’s officials said.
The boy was out hiking with his father and his father’s friend at about 5 p.m. Saturday when he began wading in the river above Wallace Falls, at a popular state park near Gold Bar, 45 miles northeast of Seattle in the Cascade foothills. The top of the falls is a steep, nearly 3-mile hike from the trailhead.
The boy slipped on some rocks, and the water carried him down a 10-foot waterfall. Somehow, just before he would have fallen over the 270-foot main attraction, he pulled himself out of the white water and onto a narrow, sloping shelf the water had carved in a rock wall.
With his back to the wall, he crouched and waited for help, his toes in the water.
“He was on that one rock for all those hours,” Snohomish County Sheriff’s Lt. Suzy Johnson said. “He’s a pretty lucky kid.”
Rescuers first tried to reach him by helicopter, but the rock overhanging the shelf prevented them from dropping straight down. Instead, a helicopter crew dropped two rescuers 200 yards below him.
The rescuers climbed above the rock overhang, and then worked as a team — one rappelling down, the other belaying.
Their goal was just to reach him and place him in a harness that would keep him safe until others arrived, said Deputy Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the sheriff’s air support unit.
As one rappelled down, he tried to swing his body under the overhang. His rope, rubbing against the rock, snapped, and he plunged into the white water. Only his secondary rope saved him from going over the big falls, and he made it to shore with minor injuries.
Other rescuers hiked up the trail, and arrived to find the boy standing on the rock, wet and hypothermic. They threw him dry clothes and food and set up a rigging that would allow them to rescue him, including a 24-foot aluminum ladder placed horizontally across the river and secured with several ropes.
The end of the ladder reached just below the rock shelf, and the boy and one of the rescuers used it as a foothold for their climb up the rocks to safety at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The 10 rescuers camped with him overnight, and Quistorf flew them out at 6 a.m. There was no place for him to land, so the boy and the rescuers rode on a platform hanging from a cable 80 feet below the helicopter.
“He was pretty quiet,” Quistorf said. “He looked pretty shook up.”
The name of the boy, who is from the south Seattle suburb of Burien, was not immediately released. He did not require immediate medical attention but was going to be checked by a doctor later Sunday.
His father waited with him through the night on the opposite shore. Quistorf said the boy slept well while camped out with the rescuers.
“They had to wake him up twice in the morning,” he said.