Liberty Student Survives 243 ft. Fall Down The Side Of A Mountain On The Appalachian Trail
Liberty University student Caleb Protil survived a 243 ft. fall down an embankment on the Appalachian trail Feb. 20, requiring a rescue from the Bedford County Special Operations Command.
On the day of the accident, a group of five Liberty University students went to the Appalachian Trail in Bedford County near the James River Footbridge for a 15-mile run in the midst of their training for the Promise Land 50k in April.
Beginning the trek around 9 a.m., the crew of students began their run and quickly realized how dangerous the conditions of the icy trail were.
Liberty University closed its campus Feb. 18 and 19 due to a winter storm. Throughout the weekend, according to The News & Advance, the highest temperature was 38 degrees resulting in the melting and refreezing of the snowy hills and trails along the Appalachian Trail.
The group of students continued up the trail despite the dangerous conditions.
At about 10 a.m., four miles into the trail and 1,380 feet in elevation, Protil lost his footing due to an impenetrable ice sheet, and tumbled down 243 feet hitting trees and rocks.
“That is the most amount of fear I have ever felt. There was almost no friction [going down the hill],” Protil said.
Protil said two thoughts ran through his head at the time of the fall, “there is a good chance I am going to die right now and the second was what can I do right now? I can cover my head,” He recalled.
A fallen tree stopped Protil’s descent halfway down the mountainside and lodged him between a branch and tree,
Hypothermia began almost immediately as Protil lost his shoes and was only equipped with light running gear. The four students on the trail immediately called emergency services as fellow runners Logan Allen and Jake Novak tried to climb down to reach Protil with no avail.
With the inability to move and the great distance between himself and his running friends, Protil used Siri through the Bluetooth headphones he was still wearing and was able to connect with Novak.
“The leadership skills with that guy – I’m so glad he was there. I talked to him about four to five hours,” Protil said.
Soon help arrived, in the form of students Sean Cate and Logan Schanz. Both students joined the Bedford County Special Operations Command bringing climbing gear, food and a sleeping bag. By strategically sliding down the embankment, the first person to reach Protil was emergency services volunteer Jonathan Basham, better known as JB.
Schanz, the intermediate climber, soon followed, repelling down using personal climbing gear, although the 200 ft. of rope was not long enough to reach Protil.
In the two hours after Protil fell, multiple crews from Glasgow, Big Island Fire & Life Saving Crew along with BCOFR M14-2, Lynchburg Fire Dept., VSP Med Flight 1, VDEM, Bedford and Boonsboro arranged a plan to extract Protil according to Bedford County Special Operations Command Facebook page. The rescue began with the repelling and hiking back to the trail, a feat that lasted almost two hours. Meanwhile, severe hypothermia limited most of Protil’s movement.
By 1 p.m., the helicopter Med Flight 1 out of Richmond dropped off equipment for an eventual extraction. Emergency crews prepared a clearing for the extraction by cutting down about 10 trees, which is rarely done in the George Washington National Forest.
Protil was then airlifted, around 4 p.m., to The James River Foot Bridge parking lot where an ambulance drove him to Lynchburg General Hospital.
After one night in the hospital, Protil was discharged with only a few stitches, cuts, and bruises.
“The Lord lined it up to use everything I had, all my gifts and talents – running, knowing the outdoors, and knowing the gear,” Schanz said.
The group recalled the miracle of Protil’s survival.
“It was God’s timing, prepared by our experience in our technical skills but also our personal relationships with each other,” Cate said. “We had the skills that we needed and the gear that we needed.”
Protil has since settled back into classes and now waits out the time to recover before slipping his running shoes back on.
“Everyone was at the right place at the right time,” Protil said. “I am so overwhelmingly thankful, I should not be alive right now, and that has really confirmed that God has something in store for me, because there is no good reason I should be walking right now.”
Kaitlyn Nyhan is a News Reporter.