SEE IT: Hero off-duty CHP officer rescues hiker stuck in whirlpool at Angel Falls

If not for the quick thinking of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, a 24-year-old hiker from Fresno might not be alive today.

The man, who has not been identified, was hiking along Willow Creek in Madera County on Saturday when he arrived at Angel Falls, a series of cascades that drops about 60 feet over granite in the Sierra National Forest.

He decided to cross at the top of the falls but misjudged the the swiftness of the water flow, swelled with snow-melt runoff, and slipped into the icy water. He was trapped in a whirlpool at the top of the falls and couldn’t move.

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Luckily, also hiking on Saturday was Brent Donley, an off-duty CHP officer who happened to be trained in search and rescue. While a Madera County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team made its way to Angel Falls, Donley got to work.

Swift water rescue at Angel Falls

In this video, you’ll see off duty CHP – Fresno Officer Brent Donley (in black shirt and ball cap) rescuing a man from Angel Falls with the help of other heroes. Please, do not jump in after drowning victims. If you are coming to the mountains, make safety a part of your plan. #somegoodnews

Posted by Madera County Sheriff's Office on Saturday, May 9, 2020


First, he tried to reach the trapped hiker with a long stick, but it just wasn’t long enough. Then cut the paracord-style strap from his own backpack, tied it to the stick, and tossed it into the frothing water.

When the hiker grabbed hold, others on the scene held onto Donley while he pulled the hiker — one-handed — back to the creekside. After the hiker was safe, Donley stayed and provided first aid until the Madera County team arrived.

A 24 year old Fresno man needs to buy a lottery ticket because today is his lucky day! He had been hiking along Willow Creek above Bass Lake at noon today when he arrived at Angel Falls. Misjudging the swiftness of the water, he decided to walk across. With snow runoff, the water is flowing at 50-80 feet per second. That’s about like 50-80 basketballs full of water every second.The flow overwhelmed and swept him into a whirlpool, which held him under. Here’s where his luck comes in.Hiking in the same area, at the same time, was an off-duty CHP Officer from the CHP – Fresno Area who just happens to be trained in Search and Rescue and in possession of a rope.Off-duty Officer Brent Donley saved the drowning man by throwing him a rope and pulling him to safety. Donley stayed with the man and provided first aid until Search and Rescue deputies and EMS arrived. We sincerely thank Officer Donley for his quick-thinking and preparedness. This Search and Rescue call could have ended very badly if not for his help.Please – if you are planning on visiting the mountains – do not attempt to cross swift water and make safety part of your plan. *This video shows our deputies retrieving the victim’s backpack from a whirlpool*#hero #searchandrescue #swiftwaterrescue #sierranationalforest

Posted by Madera County Sheriff's Office on Saturday, May 9, 2020


Madera County deputies also retrieved the hiker’s backpack, which they reported to be “full of water.”

Madera County warned hikers to be very careful of swift water, particularly at this time of year. Angel Falls, they said, was flowing at about 50 to 80 feet per second, or, if you need a visual, about 50 to 80 basketballs full of water per second.

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[Featured image: Screenshot from Madero County Sheriff’s Office video]