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Teen survives 400-foot fall into canyon near Shelton bridge

Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters assembled and decided to use a rope and harness to scale the dangerous bridge and bring the 19-year-old to safety.

SHELTON, Wash. — A 19-year-old man narrowly escaped death in Mason County over Memorial Day weekend after falling down a 400-foot canyon.

That is according to the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, which says the man fell while trying to walk beneath the High Steel Bridge.

Pictures show a rescue team sending a harnessed firefighter down off the bridge at the end of a rope.

“Hooked him up into a harness and brought him all the way back up,” said Fire Chief Matthew Welander of West Mason Fire.

Welander said the teen did what many others have done in the past: walked beneath the bridge on the steep canyon below.

“He was walking down a washout that a lot of people use, and has kind of become a trail. It’s not a trail. It’s a washout, it’s too steep,” said Welander. “And ended up all the way down at the river, sliding.”

Miraculously, the teen survived and he only had minor injuries.

“He was incredibly lucky,” Welander said.

Rescuers said the area is known for its deceptively steep terrain and the number of lives it takes each year.

“This is extremely dangerous,” said Welander.

The area is outfitted with a few scattered warning signs, including one that says, “Warning: The areas around the high steel bridge are slippery, steep, and unsafe for exploring.”

But, officials said a lack of respect for nature is part of the problem.

“People come up here to just be stupid,” said Welander.

One reason that Saturday’s rescue went so well, Welander said, is because they get so much practice.

“We get a lot of practice hauling dead bodies out of here,” said Welander. “It’s probably a 20 to one ratio.”

He said the ratio is about 20 dead to every one person they find alive at the bottom.

Rescue teams have to go down there about three to five times per year, depending on the year, according to Welander.

Like many areas with high bridges, rescuers respond to suicides from time to time, Welander said. But the vast majority, “is people monkeying around underneath the bridge where they think it’s safe, they lose their footing, they slide and then they fall.”

The rescues are costly. Not only are they a strain on resources, but they are also dangerous for the rescuers.

“Two of our rescues have actually been deputy sheriffs, that we ended up flying out because they were hurt,” said Welander.

One of those deputies, Cpl. Tim Ripp of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, said August of 2020 was a time he will never forget. It is when he and his coworker nearly died while trying to recover bodies at the bottom of the canyon.

“A boulder came down and struck another deputy in the face. He went off the cliffside, and I caught him and ended up getting injured in the process,” said Ripp. “My spine took a lot of injury. From doing that there was an 18-month recovery, where I’d actually lost feeling in both arms.”

Ripp said he has feeling back in his arms now, but still, he has a strong warning for others.

“Don’t go off trail, it– I can speak from experience, your loved ones are going to appreciate that you don’t go off the trail” said Ripp.

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