A family outing to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park took an unfortunate twist Saturday when 3-year-old Jacob Parrott took a misstep, sending him slipping and sliding 10 feet before free-falling another 15 to 20 feet to the dry bed of Pine Creek.
The boy's father, Brent Parrot, literally dove after his son.
"My intention was to grab him and get underneath him," Parrott said Sunday from his Gilbert home. He hoped to become a landing pad for his son -- but Jacob was just seconds ahead of his father and out of reach.
Jacob fell into the brush of the park's Waterfall Trail while his father hit a tree and was launched out further from the cliff.
"I had to turn around and find him (in the brush)," Parrott said. Parrot was able to see immediately that his son's arm was broken. He stabilized his son's head and had him remain still and calm, although he was also injured from the fall.
"I have one broken rib, possibly two, maybe three," he said.
Scottsdale chiropractor John Grubb scrambled down to where Jacob and Brent lay and took over for Brent.
Another visitor to the bridge took Parrot's 7-year-old daughter, Lauren, back up to the top for cookies and pop, she said. It took her mind off her brother's situation, Parrott said, and allowed his wife, Sandra, to focus on her injured son and husband.
Other visitors alerted Park Ranger Richard Anglemire, who called for the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department's Rope Rescue Team.
"The little boy was a real trooper," said Paramedic/Engineer Mike Roggenstein. The crew used a basket to get the youngster to the top, passing it hand-over-hand. The basket was anchored by a pulley system.
Parrot left the park from the north-end Pine Trail with some assistance from other visitors. Father and son were taken by ambulance to Payson Regional Medical Center. Jacob was kept overnight for observation and released Sunday morning. His father stayed with him in the hospital and the family drove home Sunday morning.
Concerned visitors check in
Sunday was another busy day at the park, said Anglemire. While he was busy checking on the chain link fence to prevent similar falls, visitors were stopping in to check on little Jacob's condition, a fact that touched the boy's father.
"It was really nice to see how many people were willing to help out," he said. As for his son, Parrott said, "He's doing fine -- he's an incredible kid."
At the time of the incident, the Parrots had already hiked the Gowan Loop Trail with Lauren and Jacob and were exploring the Waterfall Trail. When father and son reached the first wooden landing, Brent let Jacob's hand go for just a moment to help Lauren down the last steps.
The young boy was facing the hill and took a step backwards, slipping under the cable that is the only barrier keeping hikers on the trail.
This is the second fall of this type since the Tonto Natural Bridge has been a state park, Anglemire said. The first fall was in August and involved a small boy, who escaped with only bumps and bruises.
Anglemire said he has already taken steps to see that a better barrier is in place to prevent another and perhaps more serious injury to young visitors.