A California man died in a cliff-diving accident Saturday and a second Californian narrowly escaped death after plummeting 200 feet from the top of the Mogollon Rim.
Twenty-six-year-old Joshua Andrew Ethington of Hemet, Calif., drowned or suffered fatal injuries after misjudging a cliff dive into the canyon pools near Water Wheel Campground northeast of Payson.
Ethington dove from a cliff, hit the opposing canyon wall and became wedged between a pair of underwater rocks, Gila County Sheriff's Sgt. Terry Hudgens said.
"What has yet to be established is whether it was the fall into the rocks that killed him or if he drowned after hitting the rocks," Hudgens said. "It's a narrow canyon above the campground, and when he jumped, he went too far and hit the rock face full-body on, and slid down into the water from there.
"The medical examiner will determine if alcohol was involved," Hudgens said.
The sheriff's department was notified of the accident at 12:45 p.m. Saturday about 20 minutes after the victim failed to surface from his dive.
Ethington's body found 15 feet underneath a waterfall was recovered at 2:08 p.m. by rescuers from the sheriff's office, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, the Mesa del Fire Department, the Whispering Pines Fire Department, and three Payson dive team members.
That same afternoon, a 24-year-old rock hunter, Myles Ritter of Glendale, Calif., fell 200 feet from the top of the Mogollon Rim near Forest Service roads 300 and 95.
By 8 p.m., Ritter had been found and stabilized by members of Tonto Search and Rescue, hauled back to the top of the Rim by the sheriff's rope team, and flown from the scene to Good Samaritan Hospital by ambulance helicopter.
"I think the reason Ritter survived is that he fell into brush, which cushioned his initial fall, and then (he) bounced and rolled from there," Hudgens said. "He was pretty bruised up and in considerable pain, but there were no obvious broken bones at the scene, anyway. And he never even lost consciousness."
According to Terry Spitzer, a public relations representative for Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Ritter was listed in good condition this morning (Tuesday).
It is hospital policy not to divulge further patient information, Spitzer said.