Survival

I Fell 15 Metres Down A Waterfall!

A day out with friends could have ended in tragedy for Heather
  • Heather Friesen, 29, went for a hike with mates
  • Filming at the top of a beautiful waterfall, she lost her balance and fell
  • After being rushed to hospital, she’s so grateful to have lived to tell the tale

Here, Heather tells her story in her own words.

Wiping the sweat of my brow, I stopped to take in the beauty around me.

Surrounded by lush green plants and a fresh water stream, it was just another day in paradise.

A keen volleyball player, I’d moved to Hawaii a year earlier to attend uni where they had an excellent beach volleyball program.

I’d met some incredible friends along the way, including my boyfriend, Isaac, then 20.

When I wasn’t studying or competing, my friends and I loved exploring the tropical rainforests that surrounded the island.

So, one day in February 2016, when my friend, Austin, invited me to hike the Ka-au Crater Trail in Honolulu, I jumped at the chance.

Together with four of his friends, Jack, Dan, Carson, and Mali, we were excited to check out the challenging track.

We’d see three waterfalls, and a volcanic crater.

Spanning over eight kilometres, there were no steps on the trail – just muddy paths formed on the rockface by other keen hikers.

Climbing upstream, the journey was not for the feint-hearted.

We had to clamber through thick roots and overgrown vegetation.

I hope I don’t twist my ankle, I thought, worrying about volleyball.

But I knew the view from the top would be incredible.

Heather on a hike
Heather hiking (Credit: Supplied.)

‘As I fell, it felt like time stood still’

Attaching my GoPro camera to my chest, I couldn’t wait to show the photos.

Finally, after an hour and a half, we stopped for our final rest before the peak.

‘I’m going to check it out!’ Austin said.

‘I’ll join you,’ I replied, keen to see the top.

Racing up the last stretch, I felt elated as I walked over to the edge of the final waterfall where I turned my camera on.

This is gorgeous, I thought, taking in the views of the lush trees and the basin of the waterfall.

Moving closer to the edge to get better look, my foot suddenly gave way on a slippery rock, sending me plummeting feet-first over the edge.

I desperately scrambled to hang on to any ridges but I couldn’t get a good grip as I plunged to the bottom 15 metres below, scraping against rocks as I went.

As I fell, it felt like time stood still.

Was I going to be badly hurt? I thought.

Heather at the top of the waterfall
Heather filming at the top of the waterfall before her big drop (Credit: Supplied.)

‘Clinging myself on to the rocks, pain tore through my body’

In a moment of clarity before I reached the bottom, I twisted my body to the side and tucked myself in a ball.

It was a position I’d learned in volleyball training, aimed at reducing the impact of a fall.

Landing in the water with a huge splash, after around 20 seconds I managed to lift my head out, but struggled to breath and I could taste blood.

I’ve got to get myself out, I realised, walking out to reach the edge of the pool as my visions blurred a little.

Clinging myself on to the rocks, pain tore through my body and blood gushed from deep wounds on my left arm and left hip.

Moments later, Austin arrived. He’d raced down the track.

I struggled communicating with him because of my difficulty with breathing.

Refusing to leave my side, he desperately called out for help.

When two hikers rushed to my aid, relief flooded through me.

Phoning a rescue team, they squeezed my hand and told me help was on its way.

Soon after, our friends found us and did their best to keep me calm.

When the helicopter arrived 45 minutes later, the crew carried me onto a stretcher, before winching me to safety.

I was airlifted to a waiting ambulance, then rushed to hospital.

There, medical staff stitched up my hip and left arm.

X-rays confirmed I had a collapsed left lung, 10 broken ribs, and a fractured scapula.

My friends met me at hospital, and Isaac called the hospital shortly after to check in on me.

‘I’m so glad you’re okay,’ he said, racing to meet me when he returned from his road trip he was on.

Shortly after, I watched the footage of the accident and felt closure after all the shock.

Four days after the x-ray, I had surgery, where doctors used five metal plates and 50 screws to hold my ribs together.

Docs also found lacerations on my heart and diaphragm caused by my broken ribs.

‘You’re lucky you landed the way you did,’ one surgeon said after the op, adding if I hadn’t reacted that way, my injuries could have been a lot worse.

Heather recovering
Heather recovering after her accident (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I’m determined to live every day to the fullest’

Still, he advised I wouldn’t play volleyball or any sport again for at least six months.

I was devastated, but with support from Isaac and my family who flew to see me, I knew I was just lucky to be alive.

Thankfully, after two weeks in hospital, my lung had recovered, and I was discharged.

And just four months later, I competed in my first volleyball game since my accident.

When I won, I wept tears of joy.

‘I’m so proud of you,’ Isaac cheered when I told him the result.

Incredibly, 10 months later, he popped the question, and we tied the knot in April the following year.

Six years on from my near-fatal fall, I thank God every day for saving my life.

Although my accident was traumatic, it taught me that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

After a brush with death, I’m determined to live every day to the fullest.

You never know when it might be your last!

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