Bystanders rescue injured cliff-jumper at Whatcom Falls Park

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 14, 2014 

Falls accident

A man is carried by Bellingham firefighters after being injured while cliff jumping in Whatcom Falls Park Sunday, April 13, 2014 in Bellingham.

CALEB HUTTON — BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - A cliff-jumper nearly drowned Sunday afternoon, April 13, when he plunged into a popular swimming hole at Whatcom Falls Park.

The man leaped about 30 feet from a boulder that overhangs the north side of Whirlpool Falls, a waterfall about a half-mile downstream from the park's iconic stone bridge.

He fell into a rocky part of the water and resurfaced about 10 seconds later, facedown and unresponsive, witnesses said. One man jumped in from a slightly shorter boulder on the other side of the falls; a woman swam out into the creek, too, and helped bring the injured man to shore.

Sky Terry, a nurse and a former first-responder, was walking on the nearest trail with his young son around 4:30 p.m. when he saw the commotion. A friend kept an eye on the boy while Terry ran down a dirt slope to the water and performed CPR on the man. He eventually regained consciousness.

More than a dozen first-responders rushed to the scene. Someone reported a 12-year-old boy had jumped in with the man and never resurfaced. That turned out to be false: A witness had mistaken one of the original rescuers for a victim, said Chuck Henkel, a battalion chief with the Bellingham Fire Department.

Once the man had been loaded onto a backboard, ropes were tied around a tree to hoist him back onto the main trail. He screamed but said no coherent words as paramedics carried him to an ambulance bound for St. Joseph hospital.

Police shook Terry's hand and told him he'd saved the jumper's life.

Authorities did not release the jumper's name. He had tattoos on his chest and a thick goatee, and looked about 40 years old. His injuries were being evaluated Sunday evening. Firefighters did not have an update on his condition.

On Sunday the park bustled with joggers, cyclists and swimmers taking advantage of the sunny 65-degree April afternoon, the kind of day when cliff-jumping into the Whirlpool - as the swimming hole is known to visitors - has long been a rite of passage for many Bellingham locals.

The ritual, however, has been far from risk-free. A teenage girl, Katie Hofstetter, slipped on a boulder and fractured her spine at the whirlpool swimming area in 2005. She was paralyzed from the waist down. And last May a Squalicum High School student, Daniel Santiago Guerrero, 16, drowned when he jumped into the water by a much shorter waterfall further upstream.

A wooden fence blocks people from getting to the boulders above the Whirpool, but it can be easily bypassed.

The north side of the creek there has two large signs warning visitors in all capital letters: "Water below is shallow in spots and contains large rocks. A fall, jump or dive may result in serious injuries. There are no supervised swimming areas in the Whatcom Falls Park."

Edited early Monday, April 14. The name of a teenager who drowned last May in the park was corrected.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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