An 11-year-old Cub Scout from Fair Oaks was recognized by the California Highway Patrol for his bravery and heroism, after calling 911 to save his father who had fallen off a cliff.
On January 5, 2015, Ryan Pritchard, his sons Devon, 18, and Jake, 11, went on a hike to Blue Ridge Trails near Lake Berryessa. The avid hiking family had been to those trails several times in the past.
Right as they were about to leave, the 41 year-old dad put his hand on an unstable rock, and tumbled down the cliff 50 feet, and got caught in a tree.
“I remember I was in the tree, and this flap of scalp was opened up,” Ryan Pritchard said.
“At first I thought he was a goner,” Jake admitted. His older brother Devon had already gone up the cliff to put their gear in the car. But he said he knew exactly what to do.
Jake climbed down to see his father, hanging on a tree. At that point, his father had suffered major memory loss, and was not able to remember the fall. Jake immediately went down to get his cell phone. With his father going in and out of consciousness, he was able to unlock it. He remembered what he had learned in the Cub Scouts, and immediately called 911.
[911 AUDIO RECORDING, courtesy of CHP]
Jennifer Gsell, Dispatcher: 911 Emergency what are you reporting?
Jake: Um, my dad fell off a cliff.
Jennifer: What’s the location?
Jake: Don’t know.
Jennifer: I need to know where you are.
Jake: We are in the mountains.
Jennifer: You know what county you’re in or highway you’re near or anything?
Jake:… I wish I knew.
After several dropped calls, dispatcher, Jennifer Gsell saw that his cell phone was pinging from somewhere near Yolo and Solano Counties. Then their teamwork began.
“She [Gsell] asked me how many shirts I had, and I said two,” Jake said. “She told me to take off one shirt and wave it around, and I did. And then I got the helicopter to fly over us.”
“We kept on hitting the siren and he was able to tell the direction where he was hearing the siren from,” CHP captain Jim Epperson said. “And the helicopters were able to move, based on where he was telling them.
Two hours later, help finally came. Ryan Pritchard was life-flighted to a nearby hospital. He later found he had fractured his C7 vertebrae, L4, L5, had a bruised and swollen ankle, several lacerations on his head, and a broken jaw. He underwent several surgeries, and was dispatched on Thursday.
Two weeks after the tragic incident, Jake Pritchard was recognized for his heroism. He was given a tour of the CHP dispatch center, ate cake, and was given a ride in a CHP vehicle.
“He was so calm and he was the best caller I could have asked for,” dispatcher Jennifer Gsell said. “I couldn’t have asked for a happier ending. We don’t get a lot of happy endings.”
Ryan Pritchard admitted he looks a little like Frankenstein now. But he says he would not even be here if it was not for his son.
“I am blessed, he performed well under pressure, under the stress of the situation. He kept a cool head and kept calling,” Pritchard said.
Jake said he has been inspired by first responders for a while, and one day hopes to be a firefighter. But before that, he is scheduled to be promoted to a Boy Scout in March. He is up for a National Heroism Award for the Boy Scouts of America.
Photos and iPhone video are available courtesy of Devon Pritchard