A young man from the Bay Area was snapping photos of Angel Falls above Bass Lake this weekend, but his vacation quickly turned into a disaster as he slipped into the raging waters and was thrown over two waterfalls, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office reported Monday.
Thanks to the office’s Search & Rescue Team (MADSAR), Matthew Salah was expected to fully recover after suffering injuries in his harrowing experience.
On Sunday, around 10 a.m., a group including Salah were hiking along the Willow Creek area when Salah, taking pictures with his cell phone, slipped into the water.
Sheriff’s officials said Salah was “miraculously” forced into a dead tree sticking out of a pool, where he was able to grab on and drag himself to dry ground.
His injuries prevented him from hiking out, officials said, so the MADSAR team, with assistance from Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service, were able to extricate him from a rock where he was stuck. By gurney, rescuers then carried Salah a mile along a trail to an ambulance for hospital transport.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Joseph Wilder, who oversees the MADSAR team, said Angel Falls is one of the most dangerous areas in the county.
“I’d say 85% of our problems are there,” Wilder said. “It’s an area that often requires extended technical rescues, and it takes a lot of time to move in and get people out due to the terrain and rapid waters. It’s a really risky place to be.”
Due to a wet winter and a scorching heat wave impacting the state, lingering snowpack in the High Sierras is melting away, leaving water flows at their strongest rate in years. Wilder cautioned anyone, including those near Angel Falls or any flowing water, to stay out and stay safe.
“Stay out of the water, it’s as simple as that,” Wilder said. “With flows the way they are, and with the low temperature in the water, it doesn’t take long for a dangerous situation to turn deadly.”
Angel Falls has been a danger to the public even during drier years. Last September, a boy from Southern California fell off a 30-foot cliff and was saved through a “short haul” rescue with the California Highway Patrol’s H-40 Helicopter.