Officer describes dramatic rescue of CA hiker trapped in whirlpool

When California Highway Patrol Officer Brent Donley learned a hiker was about to go down a waterfall, he didn't panic. Instead, he quickly began making a rope from his backpack's drawstring.

ByChristina Lopez KFSN logo
Monday, May 11, 2020
CHP officer describes dramatic rescue of Fresno hiker trapped in whirlpool
When CHP Officer Donley learned a hiker was about to go down a waterfall, he didn't panic. Instead, he quickly began making a rope from his backpack's drawstring.

FRESNO, Calif. -- On Saturday, Christina Donley filmed a dramatic water rescue by her husband, Brent Donley, and other rescuers.

A day of hiking through Willow Creek Trail within the Sierra National Forest quickly turned into an intense water rescue for Donley, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, and his wife.

RELATED: Off-duty CHP officer rescues Fresno hiker swept into whirlpool

"A lady approached me and said, 'Hey, do you have a rope?' And I said, 'No, I don't have a rope,' and she explained to me there was somebody in the water that was about to go down the waterfall," Donley said.

The scene became increasingly serious as time passed.

"I could see he was stuck. I walked over to where everybody was standing, and there was a bunch of people there, and they were trying to figure out what to do and how to get him out of the water," he said.

Donley had to act fast.

No rope?

No problem.

Donley used his Adidas backpack.

"It's like a paracord-style drawstring. I had a knife; I always carry a knife, so I cut the drawstring out of it, and we tied two pieces together. I had my son-in-law grab one side, and I grabbed the other, and we stretched it out just to make sure it was strong enough to do what we were about to do," he explained.

Donley and a group of about five others then went to work on rescuing the hiker from the frigid waters of Angel Falls.

During the rescue, the man in the water explained to Donley that he couldn't feel his arms or legs any longer.

"I wasn't panicked at all. I was trying to be quick about it because I didn't know how much more time he had in the water, and I didn't know how long he'd been in the water," Donley said.

From the time the call to 911 was placed around noon to the time the group completed the rescue, the entire event lasted about 10 minutes.

The Madera County Sheriff's Office says that's long enough to be in the cold waters of Angel Falls.

As visitors venture out to the Sierra National Forest earlier than usual this season, deputies warn of the dangers of water crossings.

"As far as these trails and water crossings, that's something we want people to be extra cautious of. Be mindful that you're out here earlier than you normally would be during the year and that the water is deeper and swifter than the way it appears," says deputy Sara Jackson.

The Madera County Sheriff's Office said last year 90% of its water rescues were at Angel Falls.

Rule of thumb: Recreate responsibly and avoid swimming in rivers and creeks while visiting the Sierra National Forest.