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St. Mary's Falls Incident Survivor Interview

with Chris McCall, by Bryan Walter

I'm sure that by now all of you have heard the incredible story of the incident at St. Mary's Falls, or at least some version of it. Since our return, several versions of the story have been spread. Everything from crying scouts, to serious injuries, and the scouts involved floating downstream for miles before they were pulled, unconscious and not breathing, from the river. The truth is that no one cried, one scout received only a very mild concussion, and the fully conscious scouts walked up the bank to the trail under their own power, after floating for a little more than 100 yards down the river. According to the first point of the Scout Law, a Scout is Trustworthy. In keeping with this, we felt it necessary to tell the true story, as seen by one of the incident's survivors, Life Scout Chris McCall.


Bryan: How did you fall in the river?

Chris: What had happened was, most of the group that was hiking had gotten further behind than us, and there were a few of us that had gone ahead. Alex and I had split off and headed down a little trail that went over to the base of the waterfall.

Bryan: What exactly were you doing at the base of the waterfall?

Chris: Well, I thought it would be a nice picture, so I took my camera down there, and where I was it was relatively safe. And then we had the slip, and then it was chaos.

Bryan: Now, I've heard in one of those rumors going around that you jumped in after Alex. Is this true?

Chris: No. That's a big mistake. Actually what happened is, I was petrified when he went in, I'll admit that. That was not the best thing, but then I was, uh, almost pacing, and then I went on the wet rocks, I slipped, and I went in too, just the way he did.

Bryan: What happened to you after you fell in?

Chris: Well, what happened then was we got tossed in the rapids right under the waterfall for a while, and there was a pretty strong back current, so it took us a while to go through it. And what was past there was another waterfall, and this one we actually went over, it was probably about 8 feet high at the time, and that was really our first breath. I managed to yell for help, and Garrett heard us, but there was a mistake, and he saw Alex's canteen floating down the river and figured we were meaning to help us get the canteen out. Then we finally got past the rapids that were right after that waterfall, we had gotten smashed against the rocks a couple times before then, but we managed to get past the rapids, to where it was shallower and we could stand. But there was still a pretty strong current, so once again Alex lost his grip and he just managed to grab onto some logs hanging off an island in the middle of the river, otherwise he would have gone downstream. And I was able to walk around onto the island, grab hold of him, and we pretty much stayed like that for a few minutes until some people came to the island and helped us walk out.

Bryan: Who was actually able to help you out of the river?

Chris: Well, there were two construction workers working on a new bridge for the hiking trail, and they were the only people who saw us go in, so when they saw us, they knew there was a problem immediately. So they figured they were the only ones who knew how serious the situation was, and they got there and eventually got us out.

Bryan: This all sounds very frightening. What were you thinking through all this?

Chris: Well, except for occasional times when we got up out of the water, during the rapids and stuff, the only thing I could think about was to keep swimming upwards, and hope that I got to the surface, which was hard to do. Everything else, there was no room for fear, no room for wondering where the other person had gone, and you didn't even notice the cold. And that's very cold water, so that's a pretty scary situation. Basically, there wasn't much to think about.

Bryan: After you got out of the water, what happened then?

Chris: What happened was, first of all we got changed into some warm clothing, which people were kindly donating, and then we had to be taken out to the nearest exit to the road. Alex was in such bad shape that he needed a horse to come in and give him a ride, and I had to hike. We got out to the parking lot and we were met by some ranger paramedics. We had to lay down in the parking lot for a while, get our vitals taken, and eventually an ambulance pulled up and had to take us to a hospital in Browning, which was about 20 miles away. We were in there for about an hour, and got out with basically minor injuries.

Bryan: What kind of injuries did you receive?

Chris: Actually, we were lucky. It was pretty simple. Alex came out with a minor concussion, and possibly a very mild case of hypothermia, and I came out with a pulled muscle.

Bryan: So, while you were in the river, did you lose anything?

Chris: Some pictures on my film went bad, we were lucky some of the pictures still developed, a first aid kit that was in my pocket, and my so-called lucky hat. Alex lost his glasses, his shirt got ripped off, and his canteen (later recovered), and there was a rumor about a ten dollar bill for a while, which later came to be just a myth.

Bryan: A couple days later, we were allowed the opportunity to go back to the site. This time it was just you, me, and a few adults. How did it feel to look at it afterwards?

Chris: I was looking at the river probably with a new respect, because I knew what it could do.

Bryan: What did you learn from this whole experience?

Chris: Probably two things. First is stay with an adult, and two is always use the buddy system. If it had been only one of us that went in, chances are it would have been a tragedy.

Bryan: And stay away from waterfalls and slippery rocks?

Chris: Yes, that's another thing.