The weather was perfect. The hike had been pleasant. They stopped for a picnic on the bank of the stream as it rushed toward the waterfall. The normally bubbling brook was swollen with recent rains. The white water speeding down the creek and tumbling over the edge was energizing. The sun felt delicious on their faces. The flowering fields were glorious in early spring.
Other families were enjoying the day, too. Most stayed above the waterfalls. Any intrepid hikers who navigated down the steep slope to view the falls from the bottom were met with signs that warned against entering the water. The rocky pool was filled with unseen boulders, not to mention freezing cold with winter flow and melt.
Suddenly, the calm at the top of the falls was interrupted by a cry. A child of about ten years slipped on the bank above the falls. The wet surface, still damp from earlier rains, allowed no traction, and the child slid into the water. The strong flow quickly grabbed hold of her and she was swept toward the 45-foot drop. The girl’s mother screamed. The father tried to grab hold of his daughter but ended up helplessly in the water, too. Another man attempted to help, only to himself be lassoed by the water. The child’s mother and siblings, the Good Samaritan’s wife, and the picnickers watched in helpless horror as all three were swept by the white water and tumbled over the edge, quite possibly to their deaths.
The eldest son of the picnicking family ran down the trail along with a few others, hoping to assist survivors (or at least retrieve bodies so they not be carried further downstream and through additional cataracts). Rescue services were called. People rushed to the head of the falls to try and look down, afraid of seeing the worst.
Miraculously, all three survived the fall. The father and daughter managed to swim to the edge of the pool. The man who’d tried to help had made it through, as well. Both men were wounded. One with a broken nose. The other with an injured hand and lungs. The little girl was shaken, shaking, and freezing, but otherwise unharmed. With the help of others, all three were able to get up the trail back to the top of the falls, where they were reunited with their terrified families.
While recuse was coordinated, the girls of the picnicking family took off their sweaters, jackets, and socks and bundled the freezing little girl, who was drenched to the bone and had lost her shoes in the water, into layers of dry clothing.
It became evident that rescue personnel would need to hike the two miles in, so it was decided to try to walk out toward the paramedics. Slowly, with people assisting the wounded and carrying everyone’s belongings, the convoy of children and adults trudged along the trail, all stunned by what they had just experienced and/or witnessed. When help arrived, the child’s father was carried by stretcher the rest of the way and then all three evacuated in a waiting ambulance.
“I’m still processing this,” a witness shared later that day. “These moments while they were being carried toward and then fell over the waterfall … a mere few yards to our left … and us seeing it all happen … This could have been such a tragedy for the families and an awful trauma for all of us … It is amazing that this is how it ended.”
“How to process what I saw?” another witness wrote. “I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind, that the picture I’d taken of the happy family twenty minutes before all this occurred, could have been the last photo of their complete family … I saw near-death, fear, terror, anguish, redemption, joy, awe, and lots and lots of love. I saw people who came together, oblivious of background, because we are all part of the human race and we all value life and our families … and at the end of the day want to live together in peace and harmony and make this world a better place for our children. I saw people reach out and help one another, and think only of the other, not themselves.”
Note: When I saw Sue’s photo prompt, I knew that this one was not going to be fiction. Not when the photo she chose is so uncannily reminding of the very waterfall where the child had slipped earlier this week. Yes, the story above is true. My sister’s family was the “picnicking family” mentioned above, my nephew had ran down the trail to help, my sister and nieces had helped dry and bundle the child in their clothes. In the photo below, you can see the falls. They’d been picnicking mere steps from where the people in the photo are standing. How all three survived not just the dangerous tumble, but the sharp rocks at the bottom of the falls is still a marvel. Whew. Here’s to humanity first. To teaching children how to swim. And to miracles.