February 24, 2020

Injured Black Mountain rock climber thankful for rescue

ASHEVILLE — A Black Mountain man who suffered serious injuries in a rock climbing accident earlier this week faces months of recovery, but his overriding emotion Wednesday was gratitude.

I want to put a thank you out to everyone who was involved in the rescue, Jackson DePew, 23, said in an interview from his room at Mission Hospital. Id like to send them my sincerest gratitude.

In the dramatic rescue Monday afternoon at Linville Gorge, rescuers used a Black Hawk helicopter to pluck DePew from a ledge about 200 feet above the ground on Shortoff Mountain.

Ive gotten lots of Facebook messages and phone calls from people who I havent heard from in years, said DePew, an experienced climber. I want to say thank you to everybody whos reached out to me and sent me their best wishes.

DePew suffered a concussion and broken leg and fractured his pelvis in five spots after falling and slamming into the side of the mountain, winding up on a narrow ledge high above the ground. He also broke his tailbone and suffered three broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

The accident happened about 1 p.m. as DePew was climbing the steep rock face from the bottom, using climbing cams metal anchors that fit into crevices and rope as safety equipment, along with a helmet. When he put his left hand on a part of the cliff, it broke loose. He fell about 35 feet before his cams and rope stopped him, keeping him from tumbling all the way to the ground. But he still hit the rock face hard.

His climbing partner, who was still on the ground, saw what happened and called 911.

DePew said he was unconscious for several minutes, then was able to answer a phone call from his partner. He remained conscious throughout the rest of the ordeal. It took about four hours before he was lifted off the ledge in a basket by the helicopter.

I was in an absurd amount of pain, said DePew, a 2013 graduate of Warren Wilson College who started rock climbing six years ago and has been a climbing instructor for three years. It was the most pain Ive ever been in in my life. But I also remember thinking, This is freaking awesome. This is the coolest thing. Theres a Black Hawk helicopter right there. Im just about to get the VIP escort out of here.

Burke County Emergency Management Director Mike Long said one rescuer rappelled down the mountainside while another came down from the helicopter to reach DePew, who was lifted into the helicopter.

The helicopter was dispatched through the N.C. Division of Emergency Management from an Army National Guard unit in Rowan County.

DePew said the accident wont deter him from returning to climbing once his injuries heal. He plans to make a career as a climbing instructor and wilderness expedition leader.

Climbing makes me happier than a lot of things, almost more than anything, he said. Im definitely lucky I didnt get hurt worse. I feel very fortunate. I think Im meant to do something with my life.

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Injured Black Mountain rock climber thankful for rescue

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