Man survives 300 foot fall from cliff

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   A local man fell approximately 300 feet from the edge of a cliff Friday afternoon. The Watauga and Central Fire Departments, Emergency Management Agency, and the Carter County Rescue Squad responded to the scene off Smalling Road near River Ridge Campground.
   The Carter County High Angle Rescue Team found the man alive lying 15 feet from the river's edge. The team assessed the man's injuries and stated that he suffered multiple fractures and a collapsed right lung. He was taken by ambulance to Johnson City Medical Center.
   Witnesses stated that they heard a number of people at the top of the cliff before the man fell. Carter County Sheriff's Department Lt. Mike Fraley and Investigator Randy Bowers were at the scene. By the time investigators got to the top of the cliff the people had left. Members of the High Angle Rescue Team conducted slope searches on the cliff to make sure no one else had fallen.
   Tom Warren was trout fishing when he heard the fall. "I fish up here a lot and know that people get drunk and yell," Warren said. "I thought that it was a dead tree limb or garbage falling. I borrowed binoculars to make sure it was not an animal before I called 911."
   Warren stated that he heard the man fall once and then about 15 minutes later he saw the body falling through tree branches and it hit the ground just above the bank. Warren was alarmed after he heard moans coming from the other side of the river.
   "I have been up here a lot and heard noises before but trees do not talk," Warren said. "I saw him fall off the cliff and he got hung up in the trees half way down the side."
   David Olsen lives on Smalling Road and has witnessed people playing at the cliff's edge in the past. Just two years ago a lady survived a similar fall off the side of the cliff.
   "The sheriff's department is always chasing people off up there," Olsen said. "People go up there and get drunk and try to climb down the side of it but it is too steep and they fall."
   Olsen said he has seen people drive golf balls off the edge of the cliff. He also stated that people sit on the edge and dangle their feet over. The High Angle Rescue Team often trains on the same cliff.