By Gene Johnson, AP/The Huffington Post
SEATTLE — Swept down one waterfall and about to plunge over a much larger one, a 13-year-old boy managed to climb onto a 1-foot-wide rock shelf in a gushing Washington state river –- and then stayed there for eight and a half hours until rescuers finally saved him early Sunday. The ABC news video, embedded above, shows raw footage from the rescue.
William Hickman told the Seattle Times on Monday that he is grateful to be alive.
"I feel lucky I got through it all," Hickman said. "I think the rescuers should feel like heroes; they saved me. I'm lucky to be alive."
Hickman was out hiking with his father, his younger brother and his father's friend at about 5 p.m. Saturday, when he began wading in the river above Wallace Falls, at a popular state park near Gold Bar, 45 miles northeast of Seattle in the Cascade foothills. The top of the falls is a steep, nearly 3-mile hike from the trailhead.
"I wanted to go in...just to wade a little bit," Hickman said at a news conference Monday. "I was pretty determined to go swimming, to get in the water."
According to an updated Associated Press report, the teenager was swept over the the 10-foot waterfall by the whitewater. Incredibly, he managed to pull himself onto a narrow, sloping rock shelf just before the second waterfall -- the 270-foot main attraction.
With his back to the wall, he crouched and waited for help, his toes in the water.
"He was on that one rock for all those hours," Snohomish County Sheriff's Lt. Suzy Johnson said. "He's a pretty lucky kid."
Hickman told the Associated Press that though he wasn't frightened initially, he soon realized just how precarious his situation was.
"I wasn't really scared until after I got on top of the rock," he said. "I was shocked that I landed there, that I was not going to go down and die."
Rescuers first tried to reach him by helicopter, but the rock overhanging the shelf prevented them from dropping straight down. Instead, a helicopter crew dropped two rescuers 200 yards below him.
The rescuers climbed above the rock overhang, and then worked as a team –- one rappelling down, the other belaying. Their goal was just to reach him and place him in a harness that would keep him safe until others arrived, said Deputy Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the sheriff's air support unit.
As one rappelled down, he tried to swing his body under the overhang. His rope, rubbing against the rock, snapped, and he plunged into the whitewater. Only his secondary rope saved him from going over the big falls, and he made it to shore with minor injuries.
Other rescuers hiked up the trail, and arrived to find Hickman standing on the rock, wet and hypothermic. They threw him dry clothes and food and set up a rigging that would allow them to rescue him, including a 24-foot aluminum ladder placed horizontally across the river and secured with several ropes.
The end of the ladder reached just below the rock shelf, and the boy and one of the rescuers used it as a foothold for their climb up the rocks to safety at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The 10 rescuers camped with him overnight, and Quistorf flew them out at 6 a.m. There was no place for him to land, so the boy and the rescuers rode on a platform hanging from a cable 80 feet below the helicopter.
His mother, Heather Hickman, got a phone call from his dad Sunday morning.
"Their dad said, `I got something to tell you about last night, we almost lost William.' I told him he will never take my sons to a river again," Heather Hickman told the Associated Press. "He could've died, we could be having a totally different conversation right now."