In an incredible escape a 13-year-old boy has survived a fall of over 100 feet (30 metres) at the Grand Canyon. Wyatt Kauffman slipped and tumbled at the famous tourist site in Arizona when he tried to move out of the way of others who were attempting to take photographs.
He initially held onto a rock but lost his grip on a ledge at the popular North Rim. He suffered serious injuries but remarkably was discharged from the Las Vegas hospital just a matter of days later.
Among his injuries were nine broken vertebrae, a ruptured spleen, broken hand, a collapsed lung and dislocated finger.
Extremely complicated rescue
Emergency workers had to abandon early thoughts of a helicopter rescue and instead had to lower themselves down in an extremely difficult and complicated operation. It took them over two hours to get the teenager to safety.
A relieved Wyatt said later: “After the fall, I don’t remember anything after that, I just remember somewhat waking up and being in the back of an ambulance and a helicopter and getting on a plane and getting here.”
He explained how he had been on a ledge and became aware he was in the way of people trying to get some pictures, so he decided to be polite and make room for them. “I squatted down and was holding on to a rock but I only had one hand on it so it wasn’t that good of a grip. It was kind of pushing me back and I lost my grip and started to fall back.”
Relief for the family
The young man had been walking on the Bright Angel Point trail with his mother when the incident occurred. Speaking from the family home in North Dakota, his father Brian Kauffman spoke of how grateful everyone was for the fantastic efforts that his rescuers had put into bringing his son back from what could have been a so different outcome.
“Two hours is an eternity in a situation like that. We’re just lucky we’re bringing our kid home in a car in the front seat instead of in a box.”
The National Park service that undertook the rescue implemented a high-angle technical rope rescue that required great skill negotiating the steep and narrow trail.
Meghan Smith, a preventive search and rescue supervisor for the service, said: “I can say with great confidence that they put to use advanced medical skills in an austere environment that are rarely executed in most other places. It is clear that their training and hard work paid off, leading to a smooth, timely operation that will no doubt lead to better outcomes for this patient.”
Not so unusual
On average, the Grand Canyon’s search and rescue teams respond to more than 300 calls for service annually, ranging from heat illness to falls over the edge, similar to the one Wyatt survived.
They warn that although Bright Angel Point trail is popular and has scenic views, it is also exposed, narrow and surprisingly steep. Visitors are reminded to always keep a safe distance of at least six feet from the edge of the rim as there is no fence or railing.
The Grand Canyon National Park draws around 6.4 million visitors each year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire United States.