At first, it seemed like the body spotted Monday evening on a rocky ledge below Deception Pass Bridge was part of technical rope rescue skills scheduled that evening.
A call was placed to the duty officer at North Whidbey Fire and Rescue asking if the fire department had begun its drills already.“They had seen something that wasn’t moving,” said Mike Brown, fire chief with the agency. “They asked, ‘Did you put a play victim in place early, or a dummy, down for the drill?’
“We said, ‘No we didn’t. We haven’t gotten started yet.’
”The brief exchange quickly led to the chilling realization that a real person was laying on the rocks.
That led to an emergency response from two fire agencies, a challenging rappelling mission down a steep rock face and a discovery that surprised nearly everyone on hand.
The woman lying on the rocks was still breathing.“In 22 years of being the coroner, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Island County Coroner Robert Bishop, who was summoned to the scene.
How the 74-year-old Oak Harbor woman got to the rocks 180 feet below the bridge nobody knows for sure, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said.
After a joint technical rope team from North Whidbey Fire and Navy Region Northwest reached the woman and learned she was still alive, she was transferred to a rescue boat and taken to Cornet Bay Marina and later airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“The patient had significant trauma,” Mike Brown said.
She was still alive late Tuesday morning, Bishop learned after inquiring with Harborview.
The woman was found on a rocky ledge about 15 feet from the water at the south end of the bridge on the east side.
No one wanted to speculate how the woman wound up there, but Bishop said she could have been on the rocks overnight.
She had a ticket on her car that was found in the parking lot from 4:30 that morning and her sun visor was down, Bishop said.
The woman’s purse and a water bottle were found under the bridge later that morning.
In that area, there is a trail that heads east to Goose Rock, which firefighters used to get into position to rappel down to her.
The rescue team had to drop down about 140 feet with the final 70 feet very steep down to near the water, Brown said, adding that extreme tidal conditions prevented an exclusive boat rescue.
Bishop said someone has to be pronounced dead before he’s summoned. And that’s certainly what he expected when he got the call and saw the woman from the boat as it approached.
“As soon as we saw her breathing, that’s when we went from recovery to rescue,” he said.
“She was breathing pretty good. She had a decent pulse.
”He can’t fathom surviving such a fall to the rocks from any vantage point.
“I just hope she makes it,” he said.