Teen survives 80-metre cliff plunge

Last updated 00:00 23/06/2014
Teen winched from Australia's Watagan Mountains
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REMARKABLE SURVIVAL: Paramedics use a helicopter to rescue a 17-year-old who fell 80 metres at Australia's Watagan Mountains.

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It was a sneaky little teenage trick to cheat a music festival out of its cover charge, but it almost turned deadly.

Experienced rescue crews remain baffled at how a 17-year-old youth survived an 80-metre cliff fall in the Watagan State Forest followed by a delicate 12-hour overnight operation to get him out of the bush and into hospital.

He suffered fractures and internal injuries and was listed as being in a serious condition in John Hunter Children's Hospital on Sunday night.

The Merewether lad’s death-defying night began as a camping trip with a couple of mates when, they say, they stumbled across a dance festival, commonly referred to as a 'bush doof'.

The group were refused entry to the Solstium Shadows, a three-day festival promoted to have partygoers dance the chills away, because of a $A50 entry fee.

So, armed with a cigarette lighter as their only source of light, the youth and his two mates tried to bypass the normal entry and slip in another way.

It unwittingly led them to a rock shelf, and the teenager’s mates watched on in horror as they saw him stumble and fall before hearing what they thought was a splash.

‘‘Obviously that was the noise as he hit the tree canopy,’’ veteran Hunter Westpac rescue helicopter crewman Graham Nickisson said.

‘‘Looking at the size of that cliff, I seriously do not know how he is not dead.’’

In fact, rescue crews say either the rock shelves, which jutted out on parts of the cliff face, or the trees, must have helped break the youth's fall to allow him to survive.

His friends raised the alarm at 10.30pm, not knowing whether their mate was alive and badly injured, or had not survived.

Rescue crews said they could not hear any noise coming from the bottom of the cliff as police rescue squad members were joined by the Cessnock District Rescue Squad to abseil down the escarpment to find him.

They even needed the rave party to turn off their music so they could hear each other as they clambered down the cliff face.

They discovered him about 4.15am and, along with the Special Casualty Access Team (SCAT) paramedics, worked to stabilise both the teenager and the ground he was lying on, which had an estimated gradient of about 60 degrees.

By daybreak, the Hunter Westpac rescue helicopter was called to drop off a doctor and another paramedic, while rescue squad personnel cut down trees to create a hole in the canopy to allow the helicopter to winch the teenager to safety.

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By 10.30am, the teen was dropped off at John Hunter Hospital for treatment.

‘‘It was very heavily timbered country, very steep and although we only do hoists as a last resort, we had no other option,’’ Mr Nickisson said.

‘‘What we knew was that he had spent the whole night at the bottom of that cliff and we needed to get him to hospital.’’

Acting Lake Macquarie local area commander, Superintendent Murray Lundberg, said teens had found the rave party only to be refused entry because they didn’t have enough money.

‘‘They thought they would go around the back way and that’s when he got into trouble,’’ acting Superintendent Lundberg said.

‘‘He is a lucky boy.’’

BUSH 'DOOFS' LIKELY TO LACK SECURITY, MEDICAL STAFF

The dance party a 17-year-old was trying to reach when he fell down an escarpment in the Watagans State Forest is just one of many ’bush doofs’ that take place around Australia each year.

Solstium Shadows, coinciding with the winter solstice, commenced on Friday night in bushland 20km west of Lake Macquarie.

Of more than nine thousand invitees, almost 500 had clicked ’attending’ on the Facebook event.

Compared to major outdoor music festivals, bush doofs are typically small, experimental and remote. They are promoted by word of mouth and social media, appealing to a distinct community of electronic music lovers.

They may focus on particular sub-genres of dance music and require attendees to bring their own food, drink and shelter.

While similar events take place in many countries, the term ’bush doof’ has gained particular traction in Australia.

In most cases, organisers will charge a small fee but will not make money out of the event. Solstium Shadows, which promised 29 acts over 48 hours, asked for a ’donation’ at the entrance.

James Alexander, 26, used to organise club nights in Sydney and has previously attended Subsonic, one of the larger events more akin to a commercial festival.

He said small doofs may not be ticketed and were likely to lack security or medical staff. Most people would be using some form of illicit substance, with a substantial minority taking harder drugs such as ecstasy or acid.

"Because there’s no security people feel that they can do the drugs without being judged," he said.

Angus Farrell, who has also attended bush festivals, said dangers were always present in remote areas but attendees were generally expected to stick together and look after each other.

"Nobody goes on their own," he said. "You try to put your faith in humanity.”

A fortnight ago, 21-year-old Robert Fairchild went missing for 48 hours after wandering off from a bush doof in forest south-east of Perth.

Organisers of Solstium Shadows have not responded to a request for comment.

- Newcastle Herald

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