A 29-year-old woman survived an estimated 100-foot fall on Saturday while climbing the Owens River Gorge.
The victim reportedly free fell about 40 feet from the face of the Gorge just north of China Wall on the east side of the Owens River, before becoming tangled in her climbing rope and falling an additional 60 feet to the ground.
Climber and Bishop resident Olivia Nguyen witnessed the accident about 3 p.m. from the opposite side of the Gorge while belaying a climbing partner.
Nguyen said she and her climbing partner and Nguyen’s boyfriend and his climbing partner reacted almost immediately. The two men ran to the injured climber’s side, placing her on one of the makeshift stretchers left in the Gorge for just such emergencies.
Nguyen grabbed her friend’s cell phone and her own car keys – “Something told me to take my keys with me,” she said – and ran the mile back up to the rim of the Gorge where she could get reception to make the 911 call.
Dispatchers advised Nguyen to park her vehicle at the entrance to the Gorge at U.S. 395 so emergency vehicles could find the site easily – which made Nguyen grateful she’d brought her keys with her.
Sheriff’s units and Inyo County Search and Rescue were dispatched to the scene, along with Symons Ambulance. An inmate crew from Owens Valley Cal Fire Camp in nearby Round Valley was also dispatched to provide medical aid.
Because of the camp’s proximity to the Gorge, Owens Valley Crew 3 arrived on scene before Search and Rescue.
According to Cal Fire Lt. Jeff Frohreich, the 17-man fire crew was able to reach the injured woman, secure her to a litter and carry her across the river and out of the remote area to a waiting Los Angeles Department of Water and Power vehicle, which then transported her out to a waiting Symons Ambulance.
The climber suffered moderate injuries in the fall – a broken pelvis and fractured spine – and, according to those who witnessed the accident, is lucky to be alive.