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Rescuers Save 13-Year Old from Washington Waterfall

APWaterfall1

SNOHOMISH, Wash. (AP) — A 13-year-old boy rescued at the top of a 270-foot waterfall in Washington state says he just wanted to cool off, but soon found himself stuck precariously on a rock for hours as crews tried to reach him.

"I wanted to go in ... just to wade a little bit," William Hickman said at a news conference Monday where he was joined by the people who staged the dramatic, middle-of the night operation.

It had been warm earlier in the day Saturday, and Hickman said he and his 9-year-old brother thought they could get in a quick dip.

"I was pretty determined to go swimming, to get in the water," he said.

But the whitewater swept him over a 10-foot waterfall. He managed to pull himself onto a narrow rock shelf just before the main falls.

In the water, Hickman said he just focused on keeping his feet pointed downstream, like a character in a book from the popular "Pendragon" series he once read.

That advice may have helped save his life.

The current pushed him toward a narrow rock shelf just above Wallace Falls northeast of Seattle, and he was able to scramble out to wait for rescuers.

He stayed there, cold and wet, for the next eight and a half hours. His father shouted encouragement, telling him he was going to be OK. Crews later tossed him blankets, energy bars and fruit snacks.

Hickman said he wasn't frightened, at first. He said that once he finished coughing up the water he had swallowed, he realized how precarious his situation was.

"I wasn't really scared until after I got on top of the rock," the boy said. "I was shocked that I landed there, that I was not going to go down and die."

Officials released a video Monday of the rescue operation.

The video shot by a volunteer rescuer, shows Hickman huddled on a narrow, sloping rock shelf with his back to the water just above the popular hiking attraction.

One roped-up rescuer cautiously makes his way to the boy using an aluminum ladder as a foothold, and then guides him up a rock wall to safety.

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, a system by which rescuers use ropes to lower people. Their goal was just to reach the boy and place him in a harness that would keep him safe until others arrived, said Deputy Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County sheriff's air support unit.

As one rescuer rappelled down, he tried to swing under the overhang. His rope, rubbing against the rock, snapped, and he plunged into the whitewater. 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 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 video shows the ladder secured to the shore on one end and suspended in the water under the rock ledge by two ropes on the other end. The rescuer who reached the boy uses it as a foothold, helps him rope up and then helps him climb up the rock wall.

The 10 rescuers camped with him overnight, and a sheriff's office helicopter flew them down off the mountain at 6 a.m. Sunday. There was no place for the helicopter to land to pick them up, so the boy and the rescuers rode on a platform hanging from a cable 80 feet below the helicopter.

His mother, Heather Hickman, got a phone call from his dad Sunday morning.

"Their dad said, 'I got something to tell you about last night, we almost lost William.' I told him he will never take my sons to a river again," Heather Hickman said. "He could've died, we could be having a totally different conversation right now."

___

Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle



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