This accident happened early on in Jeb Corliss’s career and by his estimate taught him a lesson that would keep him safe in later life. Really gnarly first hand account of the events from the jumper if you have time to read it…
“This was my first real hard hit in base jumping. This is Howick Falls in the KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is 364ft high. This jump was early in my base jumping career and probably ended up saving my life in the long run. I was young and just charging hard. I thought I was invincible and I needed a slight readjustment of the way I was thinking.
I jumped, dipped my left shoulder which loaded the canopy on the left side first forcing an off heading opening. I then had a surging opening which made the canopy move forward with faster than normal speed. I tried to turn the canopy with rear risers and I actually did get the canopy to turn away but it was to late and the waterfall grabbed me by the legs and I was sucked in.
After the waterfall collapsed my canopy I hit a ledge in a sitting position and broke by back in 3 places and tore through the flesh of my butt. I then fell forward and impacted another ledge that broke a lot of ribs, my left foot and hyper extended my right knee. I also chipped a tooth. I was then pushed by the current to shore where I laid in the water unable to move till my friends got to me.
It took my friends 1 hour to make the hike down to where I was. In that hour I was eaten alive by little fresh water crabs that lived by the shore. I could feel them crawling on me and taking little bites. They were attracted by the blood coming from the wound on my butt and they just would not leave me alone. When my friend John finally got to me he told me the rescue was on it’s way but it was to late for a helicopter. It was already getting dark and they wouldn’t be able to land where I was so the rescue had to come in on foot. It took another 2 hours till the rescue team were able to get to where I was and set up a very elaborate rope and pull system to get me across the raging river on a back board. During this 2 hours the crabs were still coming for me and to call it a nightmare would be an understatement.
I noticed something very interesting in the way my mind started working after I impacted the cliff and hit the water. I can remember being pushed under water by the force of the waterfall and I can remember enormous pain. I remember the first thought I had was could I wiggle my toes. I was pretty sure my back was broken. When I was able to wiggle my toes I was so so so happy because at least at that moment I was not penalized. I couldn’t really move very well but at least I could feel my feet. My next thought was air, I need air. My thoughts became very focused on what I needed to survive at that exact moment so with all my strength and trying to push through the pain I wiggled my arms the best I could to try and get my head above water. Luckily I am positively buoyant I could wiggle just enough to get a gasping breath. The current then pushed me to shore. I remember laying in the water trying to will my body to move. It was such a strange feeling not being able to stand up. No matter how hard I tried I just could not move. Very very strange feeling. All of a sudden I started to freeze. I was in the blast from the water fall and I started to shiver which really sucked because it just shot pain through every nerve in my body. I can remember looking at my canopy out in front of me and wishing I could just get to it and rap my self in it. My next thought was I need that canopy around me and I need it now. For the next hour waiting for my friend I just stared at that canopy knowing it would bring me warmth. When John got to me first thing I told him after he pulled me from the water is please, rap me in my canopy so he did. He then also rapped him self and he sat there with me for the next two hours waiting for rescue. The sound of the water fall was loud and it was hard to communicate and he was not aware of my struggle with the crabs. They just kept coming, finding their way through the canopy to my wound. My next mission was to get of the rock and somewhere flat. I just couldn’t wait till rescue got to me and could put me on a back board. All I wanted was a back board. The rocks were so hard and sharp.
When the rescue team finally got to me the first thing they said was Sr we are going to inject you with morphine now for the pain. I said no morphine. The man looked at me like I was insane and said, we think your back is broken, maybe your legs and probably your hip. We are going to have to carry you out of here and it is going to be a very bumpy ride. This will take about 6 to 7 hours to carry you out and it will be very painful, you need morphine. I said no morphine. He then said OK, you need to give me one good reason not to give you morphine. I said I need to feel the pain so when I get to the Dr I can tell him what hurts. If you numb me out I will not be able to explain where the pain is coming from. He looked at me again like I was a lunatic and said ok, tell me that in 6 hours.
They then put me on a back board and strapped me to it. It felt so so so good to be off the rocks. Now I had a new mission. My mind just focused on getting to the ambulance smile emoticon Once I got to the ambulance it would all be good. Then they started moving me and the pain ran through me like burning liquid under my skin. Everything for me was pain now.
We came to the river crossing and they hooked me to a series of ropes so if they dropped me I wouldn’t just be swept down river strapped to a back board. As they started moving me across the river all os a sudden I was underwater. It was a very strange feeling being underwater with your arms strapped to your side, head strapped down, unable to breath, not knowing when you would be able to take a breath again. I would say I got dunked about 5 or 6 times as we crossed with no idea how long I was held down each time. As we got to the opposite side of the river one of the rescue team slipped and put his hand on my broken ribs and lifted himself with his whole body weight off them. It hurt so bad all I could do is think you have to be kidding smile emoticon
Sure enough they were right, it took 6 hours to get me to the ambulance and it was without a double the most horrible, painful, brutal experience of my life. It was also the most important. It’s one thing for people to tell you how dangerous something is and something else to experience the consequences of that danger first hand. I said it before and I will say it again, this accident saved my life in the long run and helped me think about what I was doing with a far more clear mind…”