Hiking accident survivor walked around for ‘four hours’ looking for help for friends stuck on cliffside

·3 min read

One person died and three were injured after falling hundreds of feet down a cliffside south of Los Angeles, California. One of the survivors managed to climb back up and look for help, but having lost his cellphone, the search for aid lasted hours.

The 25-year-old man who died has now been identified as Jerardo Huitzil. He was identified by officials from the coroner’s office in the hours following the 300 foot (91 metres) fall. Two women were hospitalised in critical condition but are expected to survive.

Vincent Avila, 25, sustained moderate injuries in the fall but he was able to climb back up. He’s now recovering at Harbor UCLA Medical Center after suffering broken ribs and minor kidney damage.

His mother, Irma Avila, told NBC LA, “this is a miracle”.

Mr Avila said he and his three friends ventured to the cliffs at Palos Verdes Estates on Sunday night to hang out and go for a hike. When one of the friends had to go to the bathroom outside in the dark, she slipped and fell down the cliff onto the beach covered in rocks below, according to Mr Avila.

When the other three tried to find her, they also slipped and fell down the cliff, NBC reported.

Ms Avila said her son thought Mr Huitzil was knocked out and didn’t realize he had died. Mr Avila lost both his shoes and his cell phone when he fell, but he managed to climb back up and find help for the others.

First responders arrived at the scene around 5am on Monday morning, when the two women were airlifted from the cliff and taken to hospital.

Area residents say the cliffs are dangerous. There are no guard rails and at night it becomes difficult to navigate.

“You have to be very careful if it’s dark,” Rakesh Sharma told NBC LA. “You can easily trip and if you trip you’re gonna tumble.”

Fire crews were sent down the cliffs using rope lines to help the hikers located between 300 and 400 feet down.

According to CBS News, Palos Verdes police Captain Steve Barber said, “the female who we did interview stated she slipped. And as she was starting to fall, her friends, all three of them, tried to save her. And in doing so, all four of them went over the cliff”.

Ms Avila told CBS on Monday that they are waiting to see if her son needs surgery, adding that Mr Avila still hadn’t been made aware of his friend’s death.

“I went to the place of the accident and that’s terrible,” she said. “I’m in shock, believe me.”

Mr Avila sustained multiple deep cuts and bruises to his face and legs as he climbed up the cliffs. His mother told CBS that she thinks the friend group fell between 10 and 11am but that help didn’t arrive until shortly before 5am.

“He thinks it’s around one hour. But the police say maybe he was walking around four hours to look for help,” she said, adding that the group were old high school friends and used to go hiking together.

“It’s extremely dangerous – there’s no fencing in the area,” LA County Fire Captain Wade Kelsey said, according to CBS.

There are no lights in the area and residents said that if the four friends were visiting, they probably weren’t aware of the condition of the ground and where the cliff edge was.

“I don’t know what the attraction is to getting so close to such a dangerous ... I mean, someone lost their life today,” Chris Reese, a resident, told CBS. “You don’t need to get that close to enjoy this beautiful scenery here.”

“It’s really nice here, but these cliffs are really slippery, so it’s pretty dangerous,” fellow resident Tatiana Osoimalo added. “You can’t see anything. Nothing in the ocean. Everything is really black, you just see the headlights of the cars.”