Many times in Upstate New York I’d be hiking, watching a hot air balloon float over the sunset-painted ripples of the Genesee River, or hopping stones in the white noise beneath a massive waterfall, when a friend would announce that someone fell and died where we were standing. I learned there that park deaths aren’t as rare as we think, and that people have trouble shutting up during hikes.
But I’m learning again today that death by massive fall is not inevitable, as Heather Friesen, who fell 50 feet down a Hawaiian waterfall, has lived to tell the tale. And capture it in a GoPro video.
Friesen, 26, said on the podcast In the World of Female Sports that she was on Honolulu’s Ka’au Crater Trail in February of 2016 when the incident occurred. A nearby waterfall had interested her, so she put on her GoPro to grab some footage.
“I was up at the top just trying to look over the edge of the waterfall.” Friesen said. “And I got too close and I ended up slipping and falling off the waterfall.”
You can see this situation play out for yourself in the video, but it’s not an easy watch. Shout out to GoPro for giving us that authentically traumatic experience, though.
In the footage, Friesen is standing on a rock, looking down at the bottom of the falls in the casual way you look down when you’re not planning a devastating fall.
“Whoooahh,” she says. Soon after, her right foot slipped on a wet part of the rock and she was plummeting, hitting rock after rock in the beginning of her drop and then free-falling into the water.
“There was a little ridge off to the left and I tried to grab on,” she said. “But that was too slippery so I just kept falling.”
When she goes underwater, you can hear her moaning in pain. It took her about 20 seconds to get her head above water. She said everything seemed to slow down during this time, and that she truly did spend those moments thinking about her loved ones and passions.
But the cinematic final reflection turned out to be unnecessary, because a nearby hiker and a church group both helped in her rescue. She was airlifted to the hospital and treated for 10 broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a fractured shoulder blade.
Today she is in good health and grateful to still be able to play volleyball.
“I have fully recovered and nothing hurts when I play,” Friesen told In the World of Female Sports. “Which is a miracle in and of itself.”
A few weeks after she got out of the hospital, she posted a photo thanking followers and updating them on her health status: