Tennessee Crews Rescue Teen After Fall Down Bluff

Mark Bush's family prayed and gripped the railing of the porch as they watched rescue crews navigate the steep incline beneath.

They had waited four hours as the crews ventured on a delicate, grueling journey down and back up from the wooded spot 17-year-old Bush had landed after falling 300 feet down a Walden's Ridge bluff.

Bush, who was tightly strapped into the stretcher, was bandaged and battered with torn and bloody clothes.

But he was alive -- something officials and his family celebrated with sighs of relief and loud applause as the stretcher crested the hill.

"I've seen falls like this that have been tragic. He's a very, very lucky young man," said Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Amy Maxwell.

Bush had been helping a friend clean out brush behind a home in the 6200 block of Forest Park Drive when he slipped off a ledge and down an incline, eventually plunging off a 50-foot drop before rolling another 250 feet down the steep mountainside.

Bush, who had his cellphone with him, was able to use it after he landed to contact help and give rescue workers his location and his condition.

He also used it to talk with his mother.

"He said he was hurt. And he told me he loved me," said Mitzi Bush, who watched the rescue along with a large group of family and friends.

As of Wednesday night, Mark Bush was being treated for a fractured arm and a head injury, along with cuts and bruises.

"When they first got to him they checked his vitals, and quite honestly -- they were better than mine," Maxwell said. "As to why his injuries weren't worse, I can't say."

Bush, who is a rising senior at Silverdale Baptist Academy, is from Harrison and works as a cashier at the Ooltewah Bi-Lo, family members said.

He also plays soccer and is very involved in the school activities, Silverdale officials say.

"He is a very strong young man -- very determined," said Becky Hansard, headmaster of Silverdale.

Hansard, who was at the rescue scene, said school officials held a prayer session as soon as they found out about the accident.

While Bush's family said the young men had tethered themselves to an anchor before starting the work, Bush had not been wearing the protective gear before he fell, Maxwell said.

Landscaping can be a perilous feat behind the homes along the East Brow of Walden's Ridge, neighbors say.

Billy Wilson -- whose deck overlooks the area where the rescue crews were working, said he harnesses himself to his deck posts before pulling out the lawn equipment.

"I always have to tie myself off before I start weed whacking," said Wilson, who explained that he harnesses himself before he even nears the ledge.

Paul Cates, who also lives on the bluff, said he once had to jump off a riding mower that got away from him and started tumbling down the hill.

"I had to go buy big heavy straps and tow it out with my truck," Cates said.

The rescuers used ropes and manpower -- no machinery -- to tow Bush to safety.

There are at least three certified rope rescue crews in Hamilton County that are called out to work serious falls, Maxwell says: Hamilton County's Cave and Cliff Team; Mowbray Volunteer Fire Department; and Walden Emergency Services, which oversaw Bush's rescue.

Since January, five emergency incidents have required rope rescue, Maxwell said.

"They obviously have to have a group that knows how to work these operations because of the terrain here," Maxwell said. "These teams have to train for all kinds of terrain, in all kinds of conditions and weather. It was warm and sunny today, but we may have had to do this in pouring rain."

As they descended through the heavy forest debris, the crews had to take a chain saw with them to clear a path.

The crews worked slowly and exactingly with the tension and slack of the line to make sure the stretcher was elevated at safe angles.

Over a dozen personnel helped heave Bush and then his rescuers up -- including the man who Bush had been working with that morning, who did not give his name.

Bush's family was able to spend a few brief moments with him before medics took him off to the hospital.

"He's in God's hands. He'll take good care of him," his mother said.

Copyright 2012 - Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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