Man plunges 70 feet off North Carolina waterfall

Whitewater Falls in Nantahala National Forest, at more than 400 feet, is the highest waterfall in the East. At least 13 people have died there since 1995.
Whitewater Falls in Nantahala National Forest, at more than 400 feet, is the highest waterfall in the East. At least 13 people have died there since 1995.

Rescuers saved a man who fell 70 feet from a North Carolina waterfall Sunday afternoon, according to news reports.

Asheville's WLOS said the man fell from a waterfall in the Twin Bridges area near N.C. 176 south of Saluda. Specially trained rope and high-angle rescue workers had to be called in because of the height and steep terrain.

In a 3.5-hour operation, rescue teams rappelled down to him, Tryon firefighters told Greenville, S.C.'s Fox Carolina, and secured the man in a basket to pull him to safety. The man, who was not immediately identified, had fractures and was airlifted to an Asheville hospital for treatment.

Warm weather draws hikers to North Carolina's many mountain waterfalls, where the views are spectacular but visits can turn fatal.

The first waterfall death of this year was reported on Feb. 24, when a Georgia visitor in the area for a bachelor party slipped and fell from the 50-foot Upper Catawba Falls in the McDowell County part of Pisgah National Forest, Asheville's Citizen Times reported. Another man had fallen from the same falls eight months earlier.

The circumstances of Sunday's fall were not reported. But at least 40 people have died at waterfalls in the national forests of Western North Carolina since 1993, the U.S. Forest Service says.

As of last May, 13 people had died since 1995 at a single waterfall — Whitewater Falls near Cashiers in Nantahala National Forest. At 411 feet, it’s the highest waterfall in the eastern United States.

Despite warning signs, visitor often are tempted to venture into dangerous areas above the falls, District Ranger Mike Wilkins told the Observer last spring.

“When water levels are down, it appears you can just walk out there. It could be six inches deep,” Wilkins said. “But they’re on a slight incline, and those rocks are slick as snot. You slip and fall, you’ve got nothing to grab. And if you slip, you’re gone.”

Nine people died in fatal falls in state parks between 2005 and February, N.C. State Parks says. Three of those deaths were at High Shoal Falls at South Mountains State Park near Morganton.

"You've got to be awfully, awfully careful because it's very, very dangerous and very, very slippery, and all it takes is one misstep," Chief Geoffrey Tennant of the Tryon Fire Department told WLOS on Sunday.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051; @bhender

Staying safe around waterfalls

The U.S. Forest Service offers these tips:

Keep a safe distance from waterfalls.

Heed posted warning signs and stay on established trails.

Never climb on or around waterfalls and never play in the water above one, where rocks can be slick and it’s easy to lose your balance. Currents can be very swift even farther upstream from waterfalls.

Never jump off waterfalls or dive into the plunge pools at their bases. Hidden rocks and logs can be submerged and pools have swirling currents that can drag and keep you underwater.

Even if you see others playing around waterfalls, consider them lucky not to get hurt. Waterfalls change all the time with varying water flows and erosion of rocks around them.