Man rescued from base of raging waterfall in SW Washington

STEVENSON, Wash. (AP) Sheriff's deputies and firefighters have rescued a man who was trapped in rushing water at the base of a southwestern Washington waterfall after his legs got caught in rocks.

The Skamania County sheriff's office said John Napierkowski, 19, was rescued Monday night in a pool near the bottom of Dougan Falls on the Washougal River.

Napierkowski had gone swimming with friends when his legs became trapped in big rocks at the bottom of the natural pool below the waterfall, Sheriff Dave Brown said Tuesday.

"The force of the water pushes you right into them," Brown said.

Napierkowski had severe bruises on his right leg, the one trapped against the rock, and cuts on his left leg that banged against other rocks.

"I tried to pull my left leg out, but I was completely numb. I tried to do that three or four times and they kept telling me to stop, to conserve my energy", Napierkowski said from his hospital room at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.

One thing Napierkowski did to stay calm was to read the graffiti written on the bridge by the falls.

"I just sort of stared at it, and spaced out, and did my own little thing I guess," he said.

The sheriff's office received a call shortly after 8 p.m. that the Washougal man was trapped in chest-deep water in the popular swimming hole.

"The first thing we do is try to keep him above water," Brown said

Emergency crews tied ropes to the man, and also gave him a life jacket, Brown said. Then they gave him a harness and attached an additional rope.

Even Napierkowski's kid brother sprang into action, holding a log attached to a rope that was tied to Napierkowski.

"First responders then began pulling on the rope from upriver and were able to free Napierkowski," said a press release from the sheriff's office.

Napierkowski was taken to a hospital because he was trapped in the water for about an hour and was lethargic from the cold. Brown estimated the water temperature at 60 degrees or less.

"The water was putting a beat down on his body," Brown said.

Napierkowski had hypothermia, and will need therapy to get back the use of his leg muscles.

The incident occurred about 30 miles east of the Portland, Oregon, area.

Napierkowski is a big guy, 6 feet 6 inches tall. That helped him keep his head above water.

But the big guy broke down when it was all over.

"When they pulled me out, I was crying. I couldn't help but cry. I was telling everyone they were my heroes."

Napierkowski is not the first person to become trapped in the area below the falls. Four years ago, a 14-year-old boy from Wilsonville, Oregon, got his leg trapped between boulders in the river below Dougan Falls. The water in that case reached to the boy's nose before he was rescued.

Napierkowski says he will go back to Dougan Falls but won't be going in the water.

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