Coast Chronicles: Christian Booth's fall to grace

<I>Suzanne Knutzen photo</I><BR>Christian Booth, Doug Knutzen and T.J. Kelsey are brought together for an Inside Edition filming.

On Sunday, July 25, on the Cape Disappointment headlands, Christian Booth's day changed in a matter of seconds from "just hangin' out with friends" to a 200-foot fall to his certain death on the rocks below - well, nearly.

His tale, relayed by South Pacific County Technical Rescue President Doug Knutzen and Christian himself, reveals a profound turn of fate that has his family and friends calling him "the miracle boy."

More Exciting As 17-year-old Christian told Kerry Tomlinson in a KATU News interview, "My family went down to Waikiki Beach in Ilwaco and we're all just hangin' out.

"Me and my friends always take big hikes up the hills that they have up there on the Lewis and Clark trails and we always decide to go off the path a little bit and, you know, walk around because it's more exciting; but we never get close to cliffs like we decided later on that day.

"It was me, one of my best friends and my girlfriend. We're walking down the path and we sat by this little valley next to a cliff because we really liked the view.

"Then we looked over the edge and saw this little cave and thought, 'Oh that'd be cool to go down there.'"

"So I kind of start crawling down, a little bit slowly, surely, and the next thing I know is - foot slips from the grass and I'm sliding down for a little bit, I'm sliding straight downhill and then - whew - off the cliff."

Two Bounces Christian is speaking from his hospital bed at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, just after the accident: his left shoulder is bruised; right wrist in a cast; the entire left side of his swollen face, his lips, ear, eyebrow and cheek were scabby; and his knee is in a sling.

He speaks in a calm, even tone, "I can remember falling and yelling, then hearing them calling my name, then it was silent.

"I was sliding on my side and my butt and I was really, really scared, just trying to grab onto to whatever, bits of grass, anything - stop stop stop stop! On the grass it was really slow, like slow motion, but once I hit the air it was just like, game over - uh - there I go!

"I remember putting my hands out to try to break my fall because I was going down face first, trying to put everything out before my head - you learn that when you're a little kid, protect your head - I'll give up my arms and legs before I give up my head.

"My knee hit first, then my hand hit the rocks and then my face went straight into it and then I remember ... well, after that I was out.

"Two bounces - I woke up all on my own - and there was a bloody spot above me.'"

Wow, This Is Real! Shortly after his fall, the Pacific County rescue team - both the surf and cliff rescuers - got the call.

Knutzen says, "We have a beach patrol for the city of Long Beach - so when the call came in, they were driving up and down the beach and I was on standby at the rodeo."

"We never know exactly what we're going to need, so we all came. We probably got to him within 30 minutes."

Christian had fallen the entire distance from the headlands just below the Cape Disappointment Interpretive Center to the base of cliffs.

"I kind of moved," Christian said. "I got up and looked at my forearm and it was - you could totally tell it was broken and I bent it back and it popped back into place, and I was like 'OK, well this isn't a dream.'

"I crawled around a little bit and found a comfier rock than where I was and I sat there and started thinking about facts to myself: 'OK, I'm a senior in high school; I'm in a leadership program; I live with my mom, dad, friends, sisters; I'm dating Jordan.'

"I started naming simple facts just to know that 'OK, I still remember things' but I'm like 'Why am I here on this rock?' and, as I was doing that I started remembering what happened and then I was like 'Wow, this is real right now!'"

Real Rescue From Waikiki Beach, Pacific County rescue swimmer T.J. Kelsey swam near the base of cliffs while Knutzen was repelling down from above, belayed from a tree that one of the team members had remembered from a rescue 25 years ago.

"By that time T.J. had made contact with Christian. He was right at the water's edge on a ledge of rock maybe 10 by 20 feet wide," said Knutzen.

"I could see the tall grass matted down for the first 50 feet of his fall then a vertical face that he must have gone over. He bounced four or five times on the rocks - I physically saw evidence of his landing because of the blood."

"I couldn't see over the cliff but I saw T.J. in the water and that's how I gauged where I needed to be."

"Christian was sitting in what we call a 'position of comfort,' dazed but at ease. The whole side of his head was crushed and his eyes were swollen shut. His knees were in really tough shape - he had on short pants - one shoe missing. He broke his right forearm, the bone was poking out."

"T.J. and I could see we would need a helicopter."

What's Your Name? Knutzen continues his side of the tale. "We started doing a mental assessment. He was sitting up, breathing - that's huge."

"But we wanted to know, did he lose consciousness, does he know his name, does he know who the president of the United States is? I squeezed his hands, pinched his feet - you want to assess whether there is spinal damage."

"We ordered a full C-spine protection [cervical spinal equipment], so the Coast Guard helicopter lowered down a collar and Stokes basket. But when the helo approached they were pushing wave after wave of freezing water against us."

"So we waved them away and tried to cover Christian up to keep him warm while we got him in the basket."

Yes, Yes, Yes Knutzen pauses for a moment hesitating. "You don't know whether to really talk about this or not," he admits, "I mean it's not like I do this with everyone - this is the first time it's ever happened.

"But the danger wasn't over yet. I've swum out into the ocean to rescue someone and had them look me straight in the eye, just a few feet away, and their eyes roll back in their heads and they sink.

"You say, 'No! No! No! I can't do this without you!' You don't want a complete let-down when you get to the victim. You need them aware so they can be active in their own rescue.

"So when Christian said his name, I just thought to ask him, 'Do you believe in Jesus?' and he said 'Yes, yes, yes!' - so T.J. and Christian and I said prayers for guidance and strength for Christian and his family.

"It was already an amazing thing, but at that point I could see Christian felt that everything was going to be alright."

Complete Security Though this rescue consisted of one victim, two men on the ledge with him, a Coast Guard boat, rescue swimmer and a helicopter - there were probably 50 people behind the scenes on shore, at phones or radios, and ready with medical equipment.

Ilwaco Fire Department, the Washington State Parks Department, the Pacific County Sheriff's Office, Cape Disappointment Coast Guard, the Astoria Coast Guard helicopter and Pacific County Technical Rescue were all on the team that saved Christian.

After his fall, Christian said of T.J. and Doug, "They were holding me like a baby and protecting me just like they'd known me their whole lives, like we were best friends. They were just holding me, holding me, holding me."

The South Pacific County Technical Rescue is a nonprofit 501-(c)(3). If you would like to donate to their work or find out more about it, check them out on Facebook.

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