A 22-year-old man was pulled from the water by two others after he jumped into a popular swimming hole at Whatcom Falls Park Friday evening, June 19, and didn’t resurface.
The man’s name wasn’t known late Friday, or his condition.
Someone called 911 at 6:54 p.m. Friday to report that a man had jumped off some rocks and into water below in an area known as the Whirlpool, according to Bill Hewett, assistant chief for the Bellingham Fire Department.
The rocks there were 30 to 50 feet high.
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He went underwater and didn’t come back up. Another man, who was perhaps in his late teens, noticed and went into Whatcom Creek there to search.
“He made a couple of dives to try to locate him,” Hewett said.
He found the victim wedged between rocks. He asked another man for help.
“They were able to go in, free him from the rocks and then get him up and out of the water,” Hewett said.
The victim wasn’t breathing when Bellingham fire crews arrived. They started CPR and were able to get a pulse. The victim was taken to St. Joseph hospital.
Hewett praised the first person who went in searching for the victim. The two didn’t know each other.
“It definitely sounds like we had an individual here that risked a lot to get in and help this person out,” Hewett said.
It wasn’t known Friday how long the victim had been underwater.
Cliff-jumping into the Whirlpool, as the swimming hole is known, has long been a rite of passage for many Bellingham locals on warm, sunny days and evenings — no matter that there are signs warning against doing so.
Both sides of the creek there, near a wooden bridge, have 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.”
A wooden fence blocks people from getting to the boulders above the Whirlpool, but it can be easily bypassed.
The ritual, however, has been far from risk-free.
Gradon Lee “Grady” Barstad, then 43, leaped from a 30-foot-tall boulder into a rocky part of the creek near the Whirlpool April 13, 2014, and nearly drowned.
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.
People also have died when they jumped or fell into the water in other parts of the park.