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Authorities Publish Video Warning of Deadly Risks of Jumping off Elk River Falls

By Jesse Wood

Online you can find a dozen or more videos of folks jumping off Elk River Falls in Avery County. Sure, those videos look like a blast, but what those scenes don’t portray are the many people who have either died or been paralyzed from jumping the 50-foot waterfall.

Now, authorities hope to shine a light on the tragic deaths and severe injuries that have occurred at Elk River Falls with a new video posted on Facebook and YouTube.

The video, which can be seen in its entirety above, features members of the U.S. Forest Service, Avery County Sheriff’s Office, Avery County Emergency Management, Linville Rescue Squad and the Elk Park Volunteer Fire Department.

Speaking from the top of the falls, Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye leads off the video by stating that Elk Falls, which is located on national park land, is “one of our most scenic attractions in Avery County.”

“But it’s also one of the deadliest and most riskiest,” Frye said, adding that in the 10 years as sheriff in Avery County, he’s encountered five fatalities from folks jumping off the falls, climbing on the rocks and swimming at the base, where the falls create a hydraulic action that can suck you in and force you to drown.

In addition to the fatalities, Frye said he’s encountered many more who became paralyzed or suffered traumatic head injuries or broken bones.

“One thing I have to do as sheriff is go tell a 6-year-old boy or 4-year-old daughter or wife or husband that their family member is not going to be coming home tonight because they drowned here in Elk River Falls because they did something they were dared to or dared to take the risk, and now their life is gone,” Frye said. “I want people to come here to Elk River Falls and enjoy the beauty. It’s a beautiful area, but know at the same time there are inherent dangers and risks involved when you start climbing on these rocks and jumping in these falls.”

Linville-Central Rescue Squad Vice President Larry Cuthbertson said in his 45-year career he’s seen more than a dozen fatalities at Elk Falls and hundreds of accidents, including several young people paralyzed from the neck down.

Avery County Emergency Management Coordinator David Vance noted that these rescue calls “task resources heavily.” Vance said that each rescue involves reaching out to the local fire departments, and then calling in state and out-of-county resources, such as dive times from Charlotte, Henderson or Carter counties, depending on the severity of the rescue.

Cuthbertson added that 15 personnel are required to support each diver, so in some cases more than a hundred rescuers are tied up in searches that may last for days – like the latest Elk Falls death in late July, when Jacques Downing, 39, of Newland, passed away after jumping off the falls.

“So it ties up a lot of people,” Cuthbertson said. “On a normal fatality when we’re doing a recovery, you are talking about having 50 to 150 people tied up for days, sometimes two to three days, four days when we do a recovery.”

The officials in the video warned that the river is constantly changing, so rocks and logs that weren’t present a minute ago might be in the jumping radius at the base of the falls by the time you climb up from the base. They warned of wet and slippery rocks and of the “dynamic and unpredictable currents” that the waterfalls create.

In essence, the officials advise to never jump from the waterfall, climb on the rocks or swim close enough to get sucked into the waterfall’s hydraulics.

Have fun at Elk Falls but be safe!