Artur Siewierski had his back turned when he heard his wife scream as she plummeted off the ledge. She had slipped on the rocks, and a simple hike had just turned into a nightmare.
“I started screaming, ‘Are you OK?! Are you OK?!’ She wouldn’t move. She wouldn’t say a word,” Siewierski said. “At that moment, I thought she had died, and I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Siewierski and wife Ewa Kreczman, both experienced hikers from Maple Ridge, had planned an hour-long hike at Mission’s Cascade Falls on Nov. 22 with their four-month-old border collie, Mavi. At one point, they decided to hike off-trail and had no difficulties in the ascent, but the terrain became “nasty” on their last 100 metres down.
Rainy weather had turned the forest floor wet and muddy, with Kreczman slipping a few times on the moss, Siewierski said. When they arrived at a vertical ledge with a 10-metre drop on to a steep declining slope, he said they tried to get back to the regular trails.
But Siewierski said they weren’t sure exactly how. He found a little path “basically the width of your foot” that would traverse them along around five metres of vertical rock face.
Crossing first, he removed any loose rocks and asked his wife to pass him Mavi by using a harness. As he was setting the puppy down, he heard his wife scream.
He described briefly catching a glimpse of her falling “like a rock” and rolling another 30 metres down.
“I was shaking, standing there on the ledge holding on to the rocks, with another hand on the dog,” Siewierski said. “If anything happened to me, I couldn’t help her. If both of us die, then our daughter would be left alone.”
He carefully made his way down, tied up the puppy and started searching, screaming out for her and receiving no answer.
When Siewierski eventually found her wedged underneath a large downed tree – which, he said, had prevented her from rolling to the creek below and hitting the rocks – she was whispering, “Just take care of our daughter.”
“I said, ‘There’s no way you’re dying on me. There is no way. I’m not letting you die.’”
Kreczman was bleeding from her head, had a large green bruise on the entire left side of her face, had a broken tooth, couldn’t move and told him she thought the left side of her body was completely broken, Siewierski said.
He said she started shivering “frantically” and seemed to be in shock. When he retrieved Mavi, the puppy immediately recognized Kreczman’s situation and began to “use his little body to cuddle her and give her some warmth.”
Siewierski said he squeezed her legs and arms to make sure there was still feeling in them, and started stripping off his clothes to give her more warmth and put pressure on her head where it was bleeding. He checked his phone, saw he had a faint signal, and called 911.
Mission Search and Rescue Society (MSAR) crews arrived at the Cascade Falls parking lot within 30 minutes, but it took another hour before they were found, Siewierski said, and Kreczman’s condition seemed to be getting worse.
He said he considered leaving to go and search for them, but his wife was afraid to be left alone.
“She was deteriorating … She could barely speak. She was telling me that she was dying,” he said. “I was desperate … I started screaming ‘Help!’ ”
MSAR crews eventually heard his cries, and the first two rescuers arrived shortly afterwards, Siewierski said. He said one immediately tended to Kreczman, while the other started communicating with the rest of the team.
Siewierski said Mavi had become extremely protective of Kreczman and did not want to let any of the crews near her, forcing him to pull back and watch from a distance.
“I’ve never seen a border collie so aggressive. He was trying to protect my wife,” he said. “The little guy knew he didn’t have a chance with these guys … But he was like a wolf.”
Within 15 minutes, a crew of at least 12 rescuers was present, and Siewierski said it was amazing to watch them work as a team. Each crew member had a designated job and did not waste time putting together a plan to evacuate Kreczman.
She was eventually loaded on a stretcher, airlifted out by helicopter to the parking lot and driven by paramedics to Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
She suffered a bad concussion, a cracked vertebrae with a compressed disc and a broken thumb, and required stitches on her head, but had no internal injuries.
Siewierski said the doctor was shocked that Kreczman sustained only the injuries she did, and said he had seen much worse results from shorter falls.
Siewierski said he was so impressed and so thankful for the work that the MSAR volunteers displayed that he plans to make a donation to the society, and even wants to help them fundraise in some way.
“They rely basically on public funding. They get money from the government, but it’s not that much,” he said.
“It’s very important for people to recognize our heroes for what they do from the goodness of their hearts.”