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Rescue Of Seriously Injured Rappeller

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park News

At around 2:30 p.m. on the afternoon of July 25th, Adam Holenberg, 23, was rappelling from a cliff above Rainbow Falls in the Cherokee Orchard area when he fell approximately 30 feet, sustaining serious injuries. Holenberg had hiked three miles in to the falls, scrambled to the top, then solo rappelled down the face of the 80-foot-high cliff. He employed a very small (9mm diameter) rope with an anchor and figure eight descending device. Witnesses said that he took very long bounds down the cliff, shock-loading the system, and that he was two-thirds of the way down the cliff when the rope severed and he fell about 30 feet to the boulder field at the bottom of the cliff. Bystanders employed a cell phone to call for assistance. Rangers arrived on scene by 5 p.m. Park medics stabilized Holenberg and the rescue team conducted a semi-technical rescue operation to remove him from the boulder field and get him down to the trail surface. He was then evacuated by wheeled litter to an ambulance at the trailhead, transferred to a medical helicopter, and flown to the UT Medical Center in Knoxville. Holenberg suffered a fractured femur, fractured vertebra in the lower back, and a fractured wrist.  The investigation revealed that the rope was military surplus Kevlar material and that there was a melted/frayed cut where it crossed over a sharp rock edge during HolenbergÂ’s rappel.  


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