by: Tina Terry Updated:
SHORTOFF MOUNTAIN - An experienced rock climber said he was the first person to reach the man who fell 20-40 feet off a cliff in Linville Gorge.
Officials also cited him because emergency crews said he got in the way of their operation.
The civilian rock climber said he spent hours with the victim, but Tuesday, he's being fined with interfering with the rescue.
It's the latest twist in a dramatic rescue you watched unfold live on Channel 9.
The 23-year-old who fell is in good condition at an Asheville hospital.
Jackson Depew severely injured his pelvis in the fall when he landed on a ledge just a few feet wide when his climbing anchors gave way.
911 calls give a firsthand account of the desperate situation on that ledge.
A civilian rock climber wearing an orange helmet was the first person to reach Depew.
The climber stayed with him for several hours before emergency crews from Burke County arrived.
The medic helped stabilize Depew and clip him to the line that pulled him into the Blackhawk rescue helicopter.
"Luckily the patient was under a small crevice and you can see in the video where I leaned over his head and pelvis trying to protect him,” Kaleb Nicholson, with Burke County Emergency Services, said.
When the medic arrived, the rock climber moved from the ledge to a spot about 20 feet up the cliff but he is still being fined for getting in the way.
When EMS arrived, he moved several feet away to give them room to do their work.
Emergency workers said Tuesday that wasn't good enough.
They said he should have left well before they arrived.
The civilian rock climber was already climbing at Linville Gorge when he heard about the victim's fall.
He rappelled 150 feet down the side of Shortoff Mountain to help.
"I didn't know what level of help he needed, so my intention was to just assess the situation," he said.
He used his 13 years of rock-climbing experience to secure Depew to the cliff.
“I also built an anchor because he wasn't exactly safe. He was kind of safe but I made him safer by building another anchor and attaching him to it,” he said.
The climber said he stayed for nearly two hours and used his cellphone to guide Burke County emergency workers to the right location.
“And this is where it gets sticky because once they got there they wanted me to leave, but I could not leave because they were using my equipment that I was going to use to leave with,” he said. “It's not like I'm on the ground and can walk away. You know, I'm 200 feet up a cliff."
He did the only thing he said he could.
He moved several feet off the cliff and waited on the side of the mountain when EMS workers swooped in to help the victim.
Moments later, emergency workers from the Blackhawk helicopter arrived.
Once the rescue was over, a Forest Service officer gave the rock climber a citation for disorderly conduct.
EMS workers said they asked him over the phone to move over before they even arrived.
They said he delayed their response by 15-20 minutes.
An EMS spokesperson said it was not likely they used the civilian’s equipment because they are trained to use their own gear.
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