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Foresthill Bridge sightseers save woman’s life

Victim faced a night in the open with injuries from fall
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It started out as a walk at sunset Monday on the Foresthill Bridge to take in the magnificent view of the canyon. But it turned into a rescue effort by a group of four sightseers to save a woman’s life below. As Foresthill’s Chris Hall and three friends leaned over the railing to look down at the north fork of the American River from 730 feet above, they spotted something that looked very wrong. They had caught sight of a small patch of bright yellow among the greens and browns of the canyon slope. As they focused on it, they could see the outline of the woman wearing a yellow windbreaker, lying facedown about 100 yards below. With darkness closing in, they yelled at the woman but there was no response. So Hall and his friends scrambled down the canyon to help the unconscious woman. They found her at the bottom of a 30-foot embankment, facedown in the dirt. She was woozy and said she wanted to die, signaling to the group that she had likely tried to take her own life by tumbling down a steep, rocky slope near the bridge. The nearby bridge, the third highest in the United States and the highest in California, has seen at least 43 people jump or fall to their deaths in its 36-year history. In recent years, Placer County has installed phones on the bridge to help prevent more suicide attempts. But the bridge’s west-facing railing above was about 50 feet away from where the woman landed, indicating not even the slightest possibility that she jumped from the span. The fresh red dirt on her jeans also signaled that she had fallen and slid along the steep side of the canyon. Hall said that he immediately dialed 9-1-1 once the group realized the state the woman was in. The other three were visitors from southern Idaho. The odor on the woman’s breath indicated that she had also been drinking alcohol, Hall said. The woman verified to emergency personnel at the scene that she had been consuming alcohol. A helicopter helped guide emergency vehicles on the drive down a series of switchbacks to get to the ridge where the woman was lying. The victim complained of severe back and leg pain before an ambulance crew could remove her from the canyon to another vehicle to be treated for her injuries at a hospital. The woman wasn’t identified at the scene but appeared to be in her 20s or 30s. Her survival could have hinged on being spotted in the canyon before nightfall, when temperatures were expected by the National Weather Service to drop to 45 degrees overnight. Hall and his friends spotted the injured woman about an hour before the sun would have gone down and darkness would have obscured her presence – and her plight – on the isolated ridge. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.