It was going to be the last rappel Man survives 50-foot plunge from cliff

August 15, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

It took Mike Parks no more than a few seconds to fall as much as 50 feet down a cliff in Patapsco Valley State Park Wednesday, but along the way he had time to think.

He saw his family, his girlfriend.

"All these faces kept popping through my head," he recalled, recuperating at his family's home in Brooklyn last week. "All the things I'd worked for. I thought, if I don't die, I'm going to be paralyzed."

But after tumbling head over heels down the slate wall -- hitting his face on a rock along the way -- Mr. Parks miraculously landed on his feet. Bruised and bloodied, with a fractured nose and cuts that required 28 stitches, he was delighted to be alive.

"I'm very lucky," he said.

Mr. Parks, 22, had spent part of the afternoon rappelling down the side of an 80-foot cliff near the park's entrance on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. He had gone up and down the cliff as many as 30 times that day. He was heading down for the last time when he fell.

Normally, Mr. Parks uses a harness when climbing, but on this last run he felt so comfortable with the cliff that he packed it away. Instead, he looped a rope around a tree at the top of the cliff. He then took the two strands in his hand and began to lower himself down the moss-covered rock wall.

Early in his descent, he lost his footing. He let go of the rope with one hand to brace himself against the side of the cliff. When he reached back, he grabbed only one end and began to fall.

"It was almost like running vertically," he said, recalling the initial moments. Soon, his feet left the wall and "I was in a high dive position."

Sailing through the air, he headed face first toward a rock. At the last moment, he turned his body and took the impact with his right hip. He put his hands over his head and hit a second rock with the left side of his face. The force spun him right side up and he landed at the base of the cliff on his feet.

"A perfect 10!" he said.

Around this time, park ranger Daryl Anthony had just finished checking the Patapsco River for illegal swimmers. He was about to drive off when he heard someone yelling from the bottom of the cliff. He climbed up to the area and found Mr. Parks sitting on the ground and covered with blood.

The Special Incident Response Team of the county Fire and Rescue Services arrived soon and strapped Mr. Parks to a wooden board. They placed him in a wire-mesh basket and slowly carried him out of the ravine using ropes.

Mr. Parks, who works as the day manager at Hammerjack's nightclub in Baltimore, said he expected to return to work yesterday. Mr. Anthony said that rangers receive one or two reports a year of climbers injured in the park.

Looking back over his fall, Mr. Parks pointed to at least two mistakes he made. First, he went climbing alone.

Neither hikers nor rangers travel the ravine much because it is steep, slippery and heavily wooded. Had the ranger not happened by, Mr. Parks might have waited hours for help.

Mr. Parks' other mistake was carelessness. Having traversed the cliff scores of times, he thought he could do so without normal precautions like a harness.

"I had too much confidence in myself climbing down the mountain," he said. "Don't ask me why."

Mr. Parks has been rappelling for three years.

He sometimes goes alone to get away from the hustle and bustle of the nightclub scene.

He says he has learned the sport largely by doing and by reading books.

Despite the fall, Mr. Parks says he plans to go climbing again.

"Soon as I get my nose taken care of," he said. "Soon as I get somebody to go with me."

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