Conway native Sam Roberts beat the odds Saturday when he survived a fall from a cliff near the popular hiking destination Whitaker Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag, in northwest Arkansas.
Roberts, 18, and fellow recent Conway graduates Ty Maple and Parker West were hiking the trail in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area of the Ozark National Forest and had stopped to camp when Roberts reportedly slipped on pine needles and fell an estimated 35 feet, according to Newton County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s office spokesperson Rachel Stone said the area is notorious for fatal fall accidents.
Austin Elders, a 19-year-old from Fort Smith, is the most recent to have died from a fall at Whitaker Point.
Elders survived a 100-foot fall, according to officials, but later died from his injuries.
Roberts’ friend said Monday doctors at a hospital in Harrison were optimistic that Roberts could go home soon.
Maple said his friend has a broken arm and broken tailbone.
“They don’t know how he is as intact as he is,” said Maple. “He’s O.K., in a ton of pain, but O.K.”
According to Maple’s account, he and West climbed to a cliff while Roberts climbed nearby. When Maple and West reached the top, they waited for Roberts.
“I saw him get to the top, and then he fell. He screamed and then I heard the worst noise I’ve ever heard, then nothing,” said Maple. “He wasn’t responding. I didn’t know if he was alive, but when I got to him he let out another scream.”
Maple said Roberts landed on a slope, with his head hitting the ground between two rocks.
Maple said West ran to higher ground to find a signal on his phone to call for help, and then ran up and down the trail to make contact with rescue teams as they responded.
The time of the fall was recorded at 3:30 p.m., and first responders, who Maple said hiked to the scene, didn’t arrive until about an hour later. Maple said they didn’t leave the area until about 9 p.m.
“In case his back was broken he was put on a stretcher. They called for an air lift, but couldn’t get approval because it was going to storm. They strapped him in a basket, tied ropes to it, and he and the EMTs were pulled all the way to the top,” Maple said, explaining a high angle rescue.
About 40 responders, several of them volunteers, arranged the rescue, Stone said.
“He had to lay down there for six hours,” Maple said. “He was so calm.”
Roberts told friends and family he concentrated on a leaf above his head as a way to keep calm and to keep his focus from pain.
Maple described conditions as wet and stormy as crews carried out the rescue.
“Sam just keeps thanking people. He’s very thankful,” Maple said. “He knows there’s a reason God spared him for a second chance, and he’s going to make the most of it.”
Responders were the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service, Buffalo Search and Rescue, Newton County Search and Rescue, officials with the parks service and emergency personnel from North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, Harrison Fire Department and others.
Stone said within one year the Newton County Sheriff’s Department has responded to four falls.
People who fall do not typically live, she said.
Roberts is the son of Dr. Thomas Roberts and Joanie Roberts of Conway.
Roberts and Maple are freshmen at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and West is a freshman at Texas A & M University.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)