UNION CREEK — A 16-year-old North Carolina teen survived a wild ride through the violent waters of the Rogue River Gorge Sunday.
Vance Falls was sleeping soundly at a Medford motel Sunday evening after being released from Rogue Valley Medical Center, said his uncle, Rudolph Grahn, of Oakland, Calif.
"It's a miracle," said Rick Lowe, a paramedic and fire captain for Jackson County Fire District No. 4, who was dispatched to the Gorge to find the boy. "You could do that 1,000 times and probably die 995 times."
Grahn said he and his nephew are spending the summer together and were on their way back to Oakland after visiting Crater Lake. Grahn began to feel tired, and he decided to stop for a catnap at the scenic overlook at the Gorge, where the full flow of the river tumbles through a narrow chasm that's studded with boulders and riddled with lava tubes below the surface.
Grahn said he gave Vance a camera and told him to take some pictures while he rested. When Vance did not return, Grahn began walking up the trail and soon heard people say they'd seen a boy go in the water. Grahn saw the red camera bag he'd given his nephew beside the river, but Vance wasn't there.
"There were a lot of people who saw him go in," Grahn said, "and nobody saw him come out."
Grahn said emergency personnel who arrived told him to prepare for the worst.
People who fall into the water above the Gorge have been known to disappear in the lava tubes, or their bodies are beaten to pieces on the rocks.
Prospect Fire Chief Bob Batte said during the 13 years he has been in Prospect no one has survived a trip through the 500-foot stretch of turbulent water, where the river level drops 45 feet in a series of rock-studded falls.
A chain link fence prevents visitors from getting too close to the precipice, but Vance walked upstream past the fence to get some pictures, his uncle said.
Vance was apparently standing in the water taking pictures when he lost his balance, said Jackson County Sheriff's Sgt. Tom Turk.
Lowe, the Shady Cove paramedic, said the boy was not a strong swimmer, and remembered little of his brief trip. Apparently the current sent him toward a rock ledge where the water was calm enough for him to haul himself out.
"He may have gone to sleep for a while," Lowe said.
Meanwhile, Grahn said he was "a wreck" knowing that his nephew was almost certainly dead.
Batte said as rescuers were beginning their search, they heard that someone walking in the unfenced area below the Gorge saw what they though was a body on a ledge, "and the body started moving."
Rescuers were guided to the spot, and found the boy conscious and alert, with only a few cuts and bruises. He was evaluated by paramedics and transported to RVMC.
Batte, who was the first emergency responder at the scene, asked the boy if he was a Christian.
"He said, 'Yes, but why do you ask?' " Batte recalled.
Batte, who is a pastor, said he told the boy "You've been given a second chance."
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:email@example.com