Tragedy occurs at Horsetail Falls
A 24-year-old Sacramento woman is missing and presumed dead after falling about 200 feet Saturday at Horsetail Falls as her husband watched.
Search and rescue teams from throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin scoured the rocky area below the falls on Sunday, hoping to locate the victim, whose name has not been released.
Rescue efforts were suspended Sunday due to the high water level in the river where she is believed to be, authorities said.
The Sacramento couple were hiking at Horsetail Falls, north of Strawberry on Highway 50, when the victim began wading above the falls in Pyramid Creek.
The woman was trying to take a picture of the view as rushing water swept her off her feet and carried her downstream over the falls, according to El Dorado County Sheriff and Lake Valley Fire Department reports.
The victim’s 40-year-old husband “was so shook up that he couldn’t even talk,” said Lake Valley Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Michael.
The woman disappeared behind the water of the falls. Her husband could not see where she eventually landed, Michael said.
The sheriff’s office received the call at around 6 p.m. The El Dorado County Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, Lake Valley Fire Department, South Tahoe Search and Rescue and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office immediately initiated a search for the victim.
“This is a multi-agency effort,” El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff Jim Byers said.
A helicopter landed on Highway 50 four times and backed up traffic for an hour, said Bill McCarrel, who lives across the highway from the trailhead.
On Sunday morning, McCarrel was one of a few confused observers trying to understand what happened. Rescue efforts continued until dark Saturday.
The search was resumed at first light Sunday. Between 50 and 60 personnel scoured the area from the falls down the river.
A helicopter was used to shuttle rescue workers made up of a swift-water rescue team, a rope rescue team and search and rescue dogs, Byers said. A foot search was conducted at the banks of the river.
The pools at the bottom are where victims historically turn up, Byers said.
The search was suspended Sunday because divers were unable to reach the pools because of the creek’s high level.
“The creek is really close to its peak flow now because the runoff is still at its height,” Byers said. “We’re waiting for runoff conditions to ease off so we can get into the pools with dive teams.”
Don Atkinson, the dive team leader, described the water as “too turbulent,” and “unsafe to dive in.”
“The biggest thing is that the water is very fast. The water flow is very high, the pools are extremely high and the waters are so turbulent you can’t see down,” Michael said.
To make efforts easier, rescue teams considered using a nearby dam to slow the creek’s flow, Byers said.
Fire trucks, ambulances and sheriff patrol cars lined the trailhead’s entrance and aroused curiosity from passing vehicles and hikers. The trail was closed to the public.
Horsetail Falls has a reputation for danger because of steep grades and slippery surfaces.
On Aug. 1, 2001, Patrick Mann, of Carmel, Ind., miraculously survived a 150-foot fall about 200 yards east of the falls.
Mann lost his grip on the slippery, granite ledge and fell backward. He smashed his head on a ledge 10 feet below him and continued to fall, unconscious, 140 feet more. He landed, feet-first, on a manzanita bush.
Mann, 35, suffered a fractured skull, a broken foot and two compressed vertebrae.
The entire rescue mission for Mann took six to seven hours. A helicopter was not able to offer support because of poor visibility due to forest fires.
— Staff writer Gregory Crofton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.