A man rescued after falling down a cliff at North Curl Curl on the weekend says his backpack probably saved his life and he is lucky to have escaped with a broken sacrum.
The local, Jean Christophe, also wanted to praise his amazing rescue team and tell others about the mistakes he made which he has learned from and hopes others will too.
Just after 12.00pm on Sunday, 3 October, emergency services received a call from a man who had fallen onto rocks at North Curl Curl headland, near Molong Street.
Here’s a quick recap on what happened:
“I love to walk,” the Narrabeen resident, now released from hospital, begins. “So this particular morning I walked from Narrabeen to Berkelo next to Warringah Mall, and I was exploring roads. I wanted to go back home via Long Reef. Little did I know it could have been my last stroll.”
So, how did Jean get into trouble?
“I painted myself in a corner and consider myself extremely lucky to be alive and able to walk. What I did wrong: I assumed I could reach Dee Why from Curl Curl by the bottom of the cliff, and it would be a casual walk. At some point, I passed some rocks and realised I wouldn’t be able to walk back, and I had to push forward. Then I found myself in front of a part that completely collapsed in the ocean. It was 20 metres drop and 50 metres long. There was no chance on earth I could go any further. The path was marked but it had collapsed.”
We asked Jean why he didn’t just walk back the way he came. He explained that by that stage he was feeling dehydrated and exhausted, he didn’t feel he could do it. He’d made another potentially fatal mistake – he didn’t bring water.
“This is when I decided to try another option, go up the cliff,” he said.
Jean explained one of the mistakes he made was not asking for help straight away. “I really didn’t want to bother anyone so I looked for a part of the cliff I thought was practical to climb. I saw calling the rescue as some kind of abuse of tax dollars… the funny things we do when we think we are “adulting”.” Jean said he knows he made a lot of poor decisions on the day and hoped he will not be too badly ridiculed for his actions.
“Right now I am paying for it. No need to point the finger at me,” he tells us.
“Anyway, this is when it went really bad. I slipped, the rest is a swift encounter with the ground, back first. The blow was intense and cut my breathing for a moment. I started assessing the situation: are my arms working? yes.. good, are my legs working? that too. I could feel a pain in my lower back and guessed I broke my coccyx (which he had). So first I had to calm down from the adrenaline rush, I knew I was about to pass out for a moment, so I moved to another rock where I could lay down more comfortably.
“This is when I felt my phone slipping through my fingers. When I regained full consciousness, the phone was nowhere to be seen, it fell into one of the deeper holes,” he says, adding that a high vis or glow in the dark stickers would have helped.
“Thankfully the voice assistant activates the screen when summoned. I painfully went down to reach it and went back to my backpack– that saved my life by cushioning the fall.”
Jean described how he was trying to make decisions about his survival – could he make it back to Curl Curl somehow? No way. He realised he had to call for help. “But of course I was unable to get phone coverage and I was too close to the cliff to be seen by any first responders so I decided to climb the other rocks to get away from the cliff.”
It was an agonising and treacherous crawl across dicey terrain but he finally got one bar of coverage and dialled triple zero.
Jean says he has since been recommended an app called Emergency Plus – it can give exact GPS position and has many useful shortcuts in an emergency. He also says carrying a whistle would have been a good move as he could have called out for help using the SOS signal.
“After 5-10 minutes one of the Dee Why Police officers spotted me on my rock in a puddle of sea water while I was trying to keep myself comfortable, I was starting to feel dehydrated,” he said.
Jean said not packing water for his adventure was one of his biggest mistakes. He had a space blanket in his bag, which he didn’t have to use, but the water was the “big missing actor” on the day.
“Then all the rest happened (the rescue) and I am immensely grateful to all the staff who did fantastic work to get me out of there. Tom, Grant, Dan, Cliff, all the others I saw, but can’t remember the names.. I saw more people between Sunday and Monday than in the last three months!”