Pa. waterfall accident kills 1; boy critical after river rescue

Sadie Gurman and Amy McConnell Schaarsmith
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

OHIOPYLE, Pa. — Storm-swollen waters claimed two victims yesterday, sweeping a 20-year old man over Ohiopyle Falls to his death in front of more than 50 onlookers and leaving a 12-year-old boy in critical condition after he fell into Nine Mile Run at Frick Park.

The Ohiopyle victim, a Washington, Pa., resident whose name wasn't released pending notification of his family, was swimming in the Youghiogheny River with four friends yesterday afternoon, according to Ohiopyle State Park Manager John Hallas.

Unlike his friends, he was in the center channel — the strongest, fastest part of the pounding river — when they were washed onto the buoy line, a wire rescue line stretching across the river about 30 feet above the falls.

The man's friends pulled themselves from the water, but he did not.

"Unfortunately, the victim was not able to hold onto the line and he washed over the falls," Mr. Hallas said.

An off-duty Pittsburgh firefighter tossed a life buoy to the victim before he washed over the 18-foot-high falls. When a kayaker pulled him from the river below the falls, the victim wasn't breathing and he didn't have a pulse. The rope from the life buoy was wrapped around the man, Mr. Hallas said.

Park staff and volunteer firefighters from Ohiopyle tried to resuscitate the man until medics arrived, but he was pronounced dead on arrival at Uniontown Hospital just before 4 p.m., Mr. Hallas said.

The area of the river where the five swimmers entered the water, near the Youghiogheny Trail Bridge about 300 yards above the falls, is a spot where the water often riffles calmly this time of year and people sometimes enter the river to swim near shore.

Yesterday, however, the river stood at 4.75 feet — nearly 3 feet higher than usual for June — and the riffles had become standing waves with a sucking hydraulic force, according to Mr. Hallas.

"It makes it very pushy, very hard to maintain your footing even in shallow water," he said.

In the other incident, the 12-year-old boy, Malei Jones, of Swissvale, was in critical condition at Children's Hospital last night after he fell into a culvert off of Nine Mile Run Trail in lower Frick Park. Malei and three friends, ages 14, 11, and 8, were searching for snakes and bugs along the edges of the basin when Malei went under the dark, murky waters at 6:19 p.m., police said.

The boy fell into a basin, beneath a spillway, that detectives said was between 10 and 15 feet deep. Police said he likely was submerged for more than 10 minutes. The water was made deeper by recent rainstorms.

Malei's cousin used a cell phone to call 911, but police initially had trouble locating them inside the sprawling park. The children yelled for help, drawing the attention of nearby joggers who stopped to assist. The 14-year-old boy also walked into the waist-deep water to help save Malei, police said.

Officers found the children at 6:26 p.m. on the trail, which runs beside the Parkway East.

Zone 4 police officers Tim Cole, Thomas Broderick, Adam Lewis and Derek Kuntz went into the water along with several city firefighters to rescue the boy, feeling around for him with their feet, Sgt. Brian Elledge said. They pulled Malei from the water and gave him CPR as paramedics arrived.

"It is a fast-moving drainage pool area," Cmdr. RaShall Brackney said. "I'm sure the water was moving a lot faster than the children thought."

The other children's names were not released, but Cmdr. Brackney said they are from the Swissvale area. Homicide detectives are investigating the incident and were talking to the Malei's companions, who had been playing in the area on their bikes.

A paramedic supervisor was injured when his vehicle collided with another car on South Braddock Avenue while en route to the scene. He was taken to UPMC Presbyterian, where the extent of his injuries was unknown.

Copyright 2009 P.G. Publishing Co.

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