Miracle at Flat Mary Falls
reported by Rick Weber
On Saturday, June 30, 2009 at around 4 PM, 19-year-old Wolfe County Resident, Thomas Drake slipped at the mossy top edge of a scenic waterfall and fell 130 feet into a 20-inch deep pool at the bottom. Miraculously, Mr. Drake survived the fall, albeit with serious injuries.
The Wolfe County Search and Rescue Team was called out and Team Coordinator, Colin Sparks, led the team to the top of the falls, where he set up his incident command post. After assessing the situation, it became clear that assistance from other county’s SAR teams would be needed, and Colin called in the SAR teams from Menifee and Lee Counties – specifically requesting High Angle Rope Technicians and gear. All three County Teams have trained together and work well as a single, combined team. This incident was no exception, and the assistance from the Menifee and Lee Teams was greatly appreciated by the Wolfe team.
John May, a Level 4 Rope Technician and Wilderness First Responder, rappelled down to the patient and immediately began administering first aid and stabilizing the patient’s head, neck, and spine. Nate Lair and David Griffin from Lee Co. joined John and the patient. All were having to deal with cold water pouring down from overhead and slogging about waist-deep in the bottom pool. They had to work fast as the patient was losing blood and going into shock.
Meanwhile, Menifee County SAR Team Captain, Donnie Brown, organized and set up a high angle rope rescue system at the top of the cliff to lower a stokes litter to the rescuers below.
While all this was happening, spectators started showing up in droves, and presented Coordinator Sparks with a chaotic gaggle of persons running around near the dangerous edge of the cliff. Safety Officer, Tom Yeager, had his hands full keeping curious onlookers back from the edge. Finally, after being confronted by a drunk rowdy bystander and the topside quickly taking on a circus air, Colin called in the law, and a Sheriff’s Deputy arrived and moved the crowd back to a safe area.
Captain Brown, lowered the litter to the rescuers below and set up rigging for a litter raise. May, Griffin, and Lair packaged the patient into the litter and rigged the bottom for a raise with Griffin and May, using a rope-walker system, made the strenuous 130-foot ascent along with the litter to attend the patient. The patient was turned over to EMS at the top of the cliff and transported to an LZ where a lifeline helicopter took him to UK Trauma Center. At this writing (July 13, 2009) Mr. Drake is out of danger and recovering from his injuries.
This was a challenging rescue in many respects. The patient had multiple injuries to attend to in an extremely adverse situation – cold, wet, dark, and severe terrain. Good training and teamwork paid off.
A young man is alive today because a few of his fellow citizens chose to unselfishly dedicate much of their spare time, money, and energy to come together as a First Class Rescue Team. In this incident, the Team, indeed, fulfilled its motto: “So that others may live.”