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Eaton Canyon Rescue Leads to Friendship

On August 3rd, Becki Sue Gomez and her family witnessed a hiker fall more than 100 feet from an Eaton Canyon wall. And that's where the story begins.

This summer, it seemed every other day an injured hiker was air-lifted out of Eaton Canyon. 

And we in the area grew weary of it all. "Oh, another one," we'd moan, hearing the helicopters whirl their rescue dance on the east side of Altadena.

From most accounts, the victims shared a similar profile -- young, inexperienced hikers, from outside the immediate area, trying to make it to the second falls.

But not every hiker rescue is the result of a hiker's recklessness. In the wilderness, anyone can take a wrong turn, and if the turn is bad enough, there may be no going back.

It happened to 18-year old Adrian. Becki Sue Gomez and her family saw it happen.

Here is her story.

We had heard there was a waterfall in Eaton Canyon that people of all ages could hike to, so my husband and I packed up our two kids (ages 8 and 10) and went for a hike. Unfortunately, we never made it to the waterfall on that 3rd of August, 2012.  We were about a mile and a half into the hike, which puts you in a gully/creek bed with tall rocky cliffs on both sides, when we heard what sounded like a hail storm.  Looking up to our right we saw dust and gravel falling from the very top of the cliff which quickly turned to softball sized rocks.  

My husband and I rushed the kids up the trail, thinking that it was an avalanche. Once we thought we were in a safe spot, we turned to watch, wondering what started it.  And then all four of us noticed a guy crouched down and facing away from the face of the cliff, bracing himself with his outstretched arms.  I thought to myself, why would anyone try to climb down such a steep face? It was soon clear that this guy wasn't climbing, he was falling, and in serious trouble.

He slipped and fell about 25 feet and caught himself with both hands on a tree branch.  He was literally hanging.  This is when my husband and I started yelling for him to hang on.  

Israel, my husband, got out his cell phone to call for help. The guy dropped another 15 feet or so, into another tree, this time landing as though sitting on a branch.  We yelled, "Don't move!" But again he fell further. 

This time when he fell, it was a sheer drop of 100 feet, straight to the bottom of the canyon and into nothing but shale and rocks.  (An image none of us will soon forget.)

I turned to my kids and in panic said, "He's dead. You guys need to stay here."

Israel was on the phone at this time with 911, and I ran up the slope to the unconscious body and was met by two others who witnessed the fall.  This is how I met Adrian, my friend -- the miracle.  

It was by no mistake that at that moment on the trail there was a nurse (the woman who assessed the injuries and helped me keep Adrian from rolling further down the slope he landed on), a police officer, and a pastor (my husband Israel). When I got to Adrian he was breathing, covered in blood and dirt, and unconscious.  He was bleeding from his head and both his elbow and thigh were completely opened up. Amazingly, even though his femur was obviously broken by what we saw, he had stopped bleeding. No artery was cut.

Adrian came to after about two minutes of praying and yelling at him to wake up.  I spent the next 15 minutes or so asking him questions and trying to keep his mind alert.  Surprisingly he answered all of my questions and he was even able to give us his guardian's phone number to call.  The rescue team showed up from the air, and from the ground, lifted him safely to the helicopter.  

Our hike was done that day and we couldn't get out of there fast enough. We got home, showered, and quickly went to the hospital to find out anything we could. The doctor said Adrain had a broken arm, femur, and had fractured his skull.  But after surgery,  the doctor said the arm wasn't broken after all and the fracture in his skull was so small that he didn't need surgery.  More miracles.  The femur on the other hand did need a steel rod and two screws to help mend the break.  

We have visited Adrian at two different hospitals and at his home and are so grateful to know him. Adrian is a joyful 18-year old, an athlete, and no stranger to hiking. He is a recent high school graduate and was anxiously waiting to attend San Jose State University two weeks after this accident.  Unfortunately, he missed the first few days of college and they dropped him. He is petitioning to get back in.  

One of the first things Adrian said to my children when they met him the first time in the hospital was, "Don't ever hike alone."  

Although Adrian was hiking that day with an athletic team from high school, he did wander off alone and took a trail up to the top of the waterfall.  When we asked him what happened that day he just described the trail as getting narrower and narrower and was looking for a way back down when the ground gave way underneath him.

I have looked at many articles online regarding Eaton Canyon and all the tragic accidents that have happened there and I was so disturbed.  I even posted on my Facebook page that I didn't understand why areas like this haven't been fenced off. But a good friend replied, "There's no end to the list of things that we could "fence-off" to protect people from danger. The natural world is fraught with danger. So is the built-world."

I know others have not been so fortunate as to survive a fall in Eaton Canyon, and my heart goes out to those who have lost a loved one there.  As for me and my family, we will continue our new-found friendship with Adrain who says he wants to take us back to that hike and show us how beautiful the waterfall is since we never got to see it that day.

Cynthia Hidalgo August 31, 2012 at 01:15 AM
There are no coincidences. Gomez family, God put you there that day for Adrian. God bless you and may He continue to use your family to minister to others. Thank you for your example!
Barbara Ellis August 31, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Adrian would make a good ambassador to spread the word about the dangers of hiking up the sides of Eaton Canyon. Of all people, he could reach through to the young people trying to reach the upper waterfall. Good luck with your recovery and college entry, Adrian. And many thanks for giving us this first-person account, Becki.
michele Zack August 31, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Thanks Karin and Patch, for publishing this first-hand account which is the only one I've read that put me right up there on the trail mid-disaster. When I hear the helicopter next time, it will mean a lot more than "here goes another one!"
Adrian Rodriguez June 27, 2014 at 02:47 AM
it's been almost two years since my accident and it has taught me so many valuable life lessons that I will never forget. Thank you all for all the good wishes and I want you guys to know that I am now continuing my second year at San Jose State University and I am back to almost full body function. Ambassador? I would be honored to do something like that!
Fortified- I am Buzzlightyear >>>>>>>> June 27, 2014 at 03:56 AM
Have you ever been back to the "first falls"? That's the first waterfall. I almost did the same thing when I was 13. When reaching with one hand, the rocks crumbled away from the other hand, and I began a backwards dive in to the abyss. The person next to me who just happened to glance over within that 1/2 of a second of time. His far away hand was firmly grasping a small tree trunk growing out of the rocks, and slammed me back to the hillside. Forty years later, I can still feel that moment. However You lived it all the way to the ground. Mine was nothing. Not everyone that falls there lives to tell about it. Just curious, what are you studying?

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