Rescued climber's friend: 'I thought I was going down to find a dead body'

Rescued climber's friend: 'I thought I was going down to find a dead body'

TROUTDALE, Ore. – You know you’re having a bad day when a guy has to be lowered down on a rope to haul you to safety.

A 19-year-old Portland man fell 20 feet, then rolled another 100 feet down an embankment Tuesday morning while hiking at Lewis and Clark State Park.

Justin Bitterlich's  friends called for help around 7:30 a.m., and Corbett firefighters arrived soon after.

Corbett Fire’s rope team rappelled down to Bitterlich, then put him in a basket and used ropes to lower him. He was transferred by ambulance to a helicopter that took him to the hospital.

"It was somewhat of a difficult rescue in just accessing him," said Corbet Fire Department Cpt. Mike Griffith. "Our crew responded off the top of the bluff and rappelled down about 50-60 feet if I understand correctly."

Bitterlich had been camping with three friends at the top of Broughton Bluff.

One of Bitterlich's friends, 19-year-old Aron Homsley, said Bitterlich slipped on a rock. Homsley said he tried to grab Bitterlich's jacket, but the jacket unzipped and down the hill he went, sped along by a backpack he was carrying.

"I thought I was going down to find a dead body, honestly, when I was going down to find him," Homsley said. "He was grunting and I just kept saying I was sorry 'cause I did my best to help him. I felt bad cause he’s one of my best friends and I was honestly feeling like he wasn’t gonna be conscious when I found him."

Although the extent of his injuries was uncertain, Bitterlich was conscious and able to answer some questions.

"He was having trouble talking when he was down her at the bottom," Griffith said. "I think the pain probably had something to do with that."

Climbing and hiking trails at the park were closed during the rescue, though other areas remained open.

Homsley desribed Bitterlich as "a punk rocker."

"I’m relieved because I know he’s not severely hurt and I know he’s gonna be all right," Homsley said. "It’s just - 'Oh, I’m not coming back and climbing that again.'"

Early reports that Bitterlich was 18 were incorrect.