Modesto friends help save man who fell off Point Reyes cliff

Joel Deering, left, and Cody LaMonte, at LaMonte’s home in Modesto on Monday, describe aiding in a rescue at Point Reyes.
Joel Deering, left, and Cody LaMonte, at LaMonte’s home in Modesto on Monday, describe aiding in a rescue at Point Reyes. jsilva@modbee.com

Their families have dubbed them “Captain America” and “Thor.”

Without pausing to consider the danger to their own lives, a pair of Modesto friends sprang to the aid of a stranger who fell off a 70-foot cliff into the ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County over the weekend.

Joel Deering, 27, and Cody LaMonte, 26, hiked to the beach below the cliff and swam 30 meters to a rock outcropping where the injured man lay. They used a first-aid kit to splint the man’s broken bones and bandage his lacerations. They used blankets to keep him comfortable and held his head stable for 2 1/2 hours until a rescue team arrived in a helicopter.

With each passing moment, the tide drew closer; the crashing waves drenched them and threatened to pull all of them in.

Deering and LaMonte were hiking with their wives and a group of friends Saturday when, about a mile from the cliffs, a frantic woman ran up to them asking if they had cellphone reception or a radio. She said her friend had fallen from the cliff above Arch Rock.

There was no cellphone reception so the woman kept running toward the parking area. She had to run four miles before she could call 911.

Deering and LaMonte started running in the opposite direction.

“At that point, Joel and I, we didn’t know if he was still alive or not, but we ran the rest of the leg of the trip, and when we got there we saw that he was up on the rocks and his girlfriend was holding his head in her arms,” LaMonte said.

The woman cradled the the man’s head in a manner, Deering said, “like when someone has passed away.”

They were surprised to find that the man was not only alive but conscious and alert.

Deering and LaMonte learned he was a 24-year-old man named Alex. The woman who was holding him was his girlfriend, Katie, and their friend Ricky was also there. All three, whose last names weren’t available, were from a church group in Gilroy.

Alex had fallen headfirst but broke his fall with his arms, shattering both wrists. He also suffered a collapsed lung and broke all but two of his ribs.

Deering, a surgical service assistant at Doctor’s Medical Center in Modesto, assessed Alex and started pulling supplies from his first-aid kit. LaMonte, who has been through first-responder training, stabilized Alex’s neck.

“I got the gauze out and started triaging his body and seeing where he was bleeding from and also at the same time looking at his chest, making sure it was rising and falling.” Deering said. “On the knees we could see a lot of meat and on the left knee we could see his bone and his right wrist was completely fractured.”

Deering pulled the poles out of his backpack and broke them in half to use as a splint. He ripped a sleeve off a jacket to wrap around the poles, then taped it all together.

“By this point the tide was coming in and the water was getting deeper and more treacherous,” LaMonte said.

They told Katie and Ricky to go back to the beach before the tide got any higher.

“If they didn’t go back then, then they weren’t going to get back,” Deering said. “We didn’t know how or when help was coming.”

The friends waited with Alex for 21/2 hours until a California Highway Patrol helicopter from its Golden Gate Division Air Operations unit arrived around 4:30 p.m.

A captain from the Marin County Fire Department rappelled from the helicopter down to the rocks, where he placed Alex into a rescue bag so he could be flown to the Bear Valley Visitors Center in the park and taken to a waiting ambulance.

The helicopter returned for Deering and LaMonte, who were trapped by the high tide. From it descended a circular piece of foam with Velcro. The crew motioned from above for them to put the sling under their arms so they could be pulled to safety one at a time, first LaMonte and then Deering.

“Something that should be said about Alex is that he fell 70 feet, hit the rocks, rolled in the water and with two broken wrists, and ribs and knees tore up, he’s the one who pulled himself up out of the water and for 10 to 15 feet he crawled (up the rocks) by himself,” LaMonte said.

He and Deering have both since talked to Alex, who thanked them for their heroic actions.

“We talked for a good 15 minutes and he ... thanked me and Cody and our families. I think he had more concern for our lives then we did for our own.” Deering said. “I just gave him a little bit of praise for how brave he was and how composed he was during the whole ordeal. We just doctored him up; he saved his own life.”