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Rock climber Chad Mullins fell while rappelling in the Little Lost Cove Cliffs area April 12.
Map courtesy of The Wilderness Society/North Carolina's Mountain Treasures

Originally published: 2014-04-14 14:08:45
Last modified: 2014-04-15 13:35:33

Climber, ASU student survives fall

by Anna Oakes

An Appalachian State University student who fell at least 70 feet while climbing in the Lost Cove area April 12 was in stable condition Monday and has since been released from Johnson City Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Teresa Hicks said.

Chad Mullins, 21, a junior recreation management major at ASU, fell while rappelling at Little Lost Cove Cliffs in Avery County, in the Pisgah National Forest. The Linville-Central Rescue Squad was the first to be dispatched to the scene around 1 p.m. Saturday, squad Vice President Larry Cuthbertson said.

Cuthbertson, who served as the incident commander, said Mullins was rappelling while top rope climbing at the cliffs and that he fell between 70 and 90 feet to the bottom. Cuthbertson said cuts and scrapes on the climber suggested that "he probably bounced and slid more than he fell," but "nobody knows."

Mullins suffered a concussion, broken shoulder, broken wrist and broken toe, Cuthbertson said.

"He's just lucky," he added.

Mullins was among eight climbers -- six other ASU students and a recent graduate -- at the site on Saturday, his friend Chris Moore said.

"A member of our crew, Scott Smith, called for help immediately after we realized he had fallen," Moore said. "He had cell phone service at the top of the cliff where our campsite was."

Cuthbertson said it took about an hour for emergency responders to reach the site, approaching from two locations at the upper and lower areas of the cliffs. Linville-Central's High Angle Task Group located Mullins and carried him approximately a quarter- or half-mile to an ATV, which then transported the victim another mile and a half to a helicopter landing zone. Mullins was then flown to Johnson City Medical Center.

"We had him out in about two hours," Cuthbertson said. "It was about three hours from the time he fell until he got on the helicopter."

Moore said all of the people in the group had rock climbing experience of varying levels.

"Chad is a competent climber who has had training from very experienced climbers," said Moore. "No one knows what happened that caused the fall, and might not ever, depending on what Chad remembers.

"He is lucky to be alive and to come away with no permanent or life-threatening injuries," Moore added.

Linville-Central's High Angle Task Group provides qualified and experienced high angle, rope rescue and other technical mountain rescue resources within Avery County and to nearby counties on a mutual aid basis. Cuthbertson, a high angle mountain rescue instructor, said the team holds monthly trainings.

"This time of year through the fall, we'll average two (high angle rescues) a month, maybe three," he said. "We have had as many as three of these in one day."

The Linville Fire Department, Crossnore Fire Department, Avery Sheriff's Office and Parkway Fire and Rescue of Mitchell County also responded to the scene.