The bridge at Moulton Falls, a scenic, forested park in Washington state about 40 miles north of Portland, looms 60 feet above the water. Large rocks jut out along the river’s shore. A sign says that diving from the bridge is prohibited.
But that doesn’t stop many thrill-seeking teenagers from leaping into the cool river on a hot summer day.
On Tuesday afternoon, 16-year-old Jordan Holgerson and her friends prepared to do just that. In her swimsuit, Holgerson stood on the outer ledge of the bridge. One member of the group started filming a video.
In it, someone can be heard counting down: “Three, two, one.”
Holgerson hesitates. “No, I won’t go in,” she says.
“She’s saying ‘no,’ ” a young man next to her says.
“Ready?” someone asks.
Holgerson does not have a chance to respond. She is facing the river but clearly not in a position to dive or jump properly.
Suddenly, a young woman shoves her from behind, with considerable force.
She falls through the air, her arms flailing. She plunges the equivalent of three stories for about three seconds before she hits the water below in a violent belly flop. Her friends shout. One of them curses.
At about 2:45 p.m. ambulance crews arrived and rushed her to the hospital. The dramatic fall left Holgerson with five broken ribs, an injured trachea, a bruised esophagus and air trapped in the lining of her lungs, her mother, Genelle Holgerson, told the Longview Daily News.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident, according to the Columbian.
“She is lucky she is not paralyzed or dead,” Genelle Holgerson, who is a medical assistant herself, told the Daily News from the hospital. “We’re lucky she is going to recover and not have permanent injuries.”
Her daughter knows the woman who pushed her off the bridge, Holgerson said. “I’m very upset with her,” the mother told the Daily News. “She is an adult, and I’m sure she should have known better. She could have killed my daughter.”
Jordan Holgerson’s sister Vanessa told KOIN she thinks the friend who pushed Jordan “tried to do it jokingly and didn’t think what could have happened.”
“You don’t really play around at 60 feet,” Vanessa Holgerson said. “There’s no good way you’re going to land when you get shoved off a bridge.”
Another sister told KOIN she confronted the young woman on social media. “She pretty much said that she was sorry for doing it and she wouldn’t have done it if she knew the outcome of it and that she knows it was an absurd thing to do,” sister Kaytlin Holgerson told the television station, adding that she thinks the woman should suffer consequences.
But when Jordan Holgerson and her family members spoke to reporters at the hospital on Wednesday afternoon, they declined to comment on the woman who pushed her.
Surrounded by two friends and one of her sisters, Jordan Holgerson said she had never jumped off the Moulton Falls bridge before. But she had previously swum in the area and had seen people attempt the jump before. “They were fine,” she said.
Jordan Holgerson said she does not remember thinking about anything when she fell. “In the air I think I might have fainted,” she told reporters. “But when I hit the water I was definitely awake and aware.”
As she flailed toward the water, she tried to push herself forward so that she could fall straight, with her feet first. “But that didn’t work, she said. “I went under and I thought I was swimming fine, but I don’t know. I couldn’t breathe, so that’s all I could really think about.”
She doesn’t like that the video of her fall has become viral, she said. “It’s just scary.”
The teenager said she is still in a lot of pain, and cannot do “anything active” for about six weeks. Her surgeon, MaryClare Sarff, told KGW the outcome of the fall could have been far worse.
“This could have been horrible,” Sarff told KGW, “she could have died.”
“When you fall three times your height, 50 percent of people will die,” she told the Oregonian. But falling onto water from 60 feet in the air, Sarff said, “that’s like falling on concrete. She could have broken her neck, she could have been a quadriplegic.”
Injuries are not uncommon at the arch bridge in Moulton Falls Regional Park, which spans 387 acres and has two waterfalls. While swimming is allowed, there are no lifeguards on duty, according to the county’s public works agency.
Last year, a 47-year-old man was injured after leaping from the bridge and landing in a sitting position, authorities told the Columbian. Emergency crews rescued the man from the river by boat, finding him resting on a rock shelf along the shore.
“You’ve got to land in there just right or you can get hurt,” Fire Chief Ben Peeler told the Columbian at the time. “Every summer we have a couple of people out there who get hurt, and people do drown.”
Jordan Horgenson told reporters she does not advise jumping off the bridge at all. “Just stick to the rocks,” she said.
One reporter asked the teenage girl how she’s choosing her friends these days, after the fall.
“A lot more careful,” she responded.