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McWay Falls visitors witness young hiker fall, they share their story hoping it saves lives

BIG SUR, Calif. (KION) The Big Sur Coast is breathtaking but it can also be an unforgiving place, especially when it comes to hiking with its steep cliffs and rugged terrain. Visitors from all walks of life come to admire its beauty like the iconic McWay Falls. For one woman hiking off the trail, things turned deadly when she lost her footing.

"You don't want to accept it. You don't want to believe that somebody just fell off a cliff," said Katelyn Risinger and Jules Medina.

Katelyn and Jules were looking to get out of the city, visiting the Central Coast from Los Angles. The couple, familiar with Big Sur Coast, was playing tour guide for visiting family. After days of cruising the area, one of their last stops brought them to the Waterfall Overlook Trail at McWay Falls. Where a handful of other tourists were engaging in photos when all of a sudden,

"She's like, oh, my God, someone just fell. And everyone looks and I looked and I could see something cartwheeling through the air. And this just horrific sound of the body just hitting the rocks just kind of made everything standstill," Medina.

The hiker from southern California has been identified as Marie Denea Ishie. The 22-year-old was active in the Navy. She was hiking in a "prohibited rocky area" southwest of Mcway Falls.

"There was nothing we could do. There was no reception. There was nobody at the booth. There was no way to contact any kind of responder for help," Medina.

Those familiar with Big Sur understand cell service is limited, littered with dead zones, and making a 911 call can prove extremely if not nearly impossible. Katelyn had to drive south of McWay Falls, to a campground where she was finally able to call 911. 30 minutes after the accident.

"Just know that if something happens to you, it could be an hour or more before you get any kind of help. So consider that next time you leave a trail or you want to take that one photo that's a little past sign,” Medina.

Aside from reminding people to stay on the trails, the L.A. couple hopes sharing their experience will open a dialog on how to make it safer, either with fencing, better signage, or setting up devices for faster communication.

"My hope is that something will happen. Just like whether it's a phone there or an emergency walkie-talkie that you can grab out of the ranger booth,” said Risinger.

For Katelyn and Jules, witnessing Ishie’s deadly fall was traumatizing, and though they don’t plan to revisit McWays falls any time soon, they’ve kept Ishie’s family in their thoughts.

“You worry about the person's family. Like, how are they doing? You know, it's just such a tragedy,” Risinger.

KION did hear back from Big Sur Sector Superintendent Marcus Ortega, who informed us that the building near the entrance is not a ranger station but rather a kiosk where park aids, not rangers, work to help visitors with park fees and provide them information of the area. The kiosk may not always be staffed, and right now it's because many of the trails in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park near McWay Falls are closed due to 2020 Dolan Fire.

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Erika Bratten

Erika Bratten is a weather forecaster for KION News Channel 5/46.


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