September 3, 2012

After Woman Plunged 60 Feet, Cornell Student Acted to Prevent Gorge Tragedy

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A Cornell student’s alert eye and quick thinking — aided by the expertise of a few nearby emergency medical technicians — may have been the difference between life and death for a woman who fell approximately 60 feet at the Six Mile Creek gorge Friday.

Tom Collum ’14 was enjoying a day at the gorges with some friends when, he said, he noticed a “visibly intoxicated” woman contemplating a dangerous dive into the waters below. Just after she began her descent, Collum began rapidly swimming to the spot at which he expected her to land, knowing that she could be imperiled.

A few seconds later, Collum saw the woman’s body emerge, face down, a few feet in front of him. He initially thought the woman’s shirt had been bloodied before realizing she was wearing a maroon shirt.

“She was completely unconscious,” Collum recalled in an interview with The Sun. “I started swimming faster, grabbed her and flipped her around to get her head out of the water so she wouldn’t drown.”

He then swam the woman about 20 feet to a nearby dam, where he was met by around 10 people, including a few student EMTs. The group straightened the woman’s neck, checked her pulse and ensured she was breathing.

They then placed her on a raft that they used to take her to shore. She was later airlifted to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., according to The Ithaca Journal.

“It was good that there were a bunch of people nearby who rushed over to assist when they recognized that we needed to help her out,” Collum said.

Collum, a native Ithacan and descendant of Ezra Cornell, downplayed any heroics relating to his actions, emphasizing that he was just one member of a group that responded quickly to the woman’s fall.

The group’s timely intervention may have helped avert what could have been the latest in a string of gorge-related tragedies. Over the summer, Cornell responded to the accidental deaths of three students in the gorges in 2011 by ramping up its safety efforts at University owned gorges, which do not include Six Mile Creek.

The University has devoted $1.56 million to the efforts, $150,000 of which will be spent every year on maintaining trails adjacent to the gorges. It also created the Cornell stewards program, sending trained experts to the waterways to educate people enjoying the gorges.

In July, the stewards found more than 200 people engaging in behavior that violated rules about using the gorges, highlighting the ongoing need for education about which parts of the area are safe for recreational swimming.

But also crucial to making sure individuals remain safe is the situational awareness of bystanders, said Anisha Chopra ’13, who spearheaded the Student Assembly’s efforts to improve gorge safety.

“I applaud Collum for his courage and forethought. That’s all we ask for … for people to look out for one another,” Chopra said.

She urged people to either call the authorities in the event of a crisis or, if there is not enough time, to try to intervene.

“Community awareness can save lives,” she said. “And, thanks to Tom, actually did.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein