- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Charma Brown was rolling in her wheelchair along the lower trail at Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve one day when she saw a boy and girl climbing on a rock.

“I said, ‘Hey, get off that rock. You don’t want to fall.’ They looked at me funny. I said, ‘The reason I’m in this chair is because I fell from up there.’”

Brown doesn’t remember the Sept. 9, 2006, accident. When she awoke afterward, her first, panicked thought was that she had overslept and was late for her first-shift job at Burger King.

“I opened my eyes and realized I was in a hospital room. I tried to get up. I couldn’t move my legs,” she said recently.

A nurse entered the room, and Brown noticed the concerned look on her face.

“I said, ‘What happened?’”

“Honey,” she said, “you had an accident. You fell off a cliff.”

That day in September, Brown and a friend had hiked the Rim Trail near the Upper Falls area of Conkle’s Hollow. Brown left the trail and stepped over a wooden barrier to peer closer at the waterfall. She slipped and plummeted about 50 feet, landing on a rock shelf along the cliff face.

A couple who saw her fall summoned help. Members of the Hocking Hills Rope Rescue Team rushed there with their ropes, carabiners and harnesses. Several rappelled down the cliff carrying first-aid supplies. They fastened a neck collar around the unconscious hiker and started an IV, placed her on a backboard and into a basket, and signaled the team members at the top to begin the lift.

A medical helicopter picked her up for the flight to Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

That’s where Brown woke up to find that she was paralyzed from the chest down, all because she stepped off the trail for a closer look at the waterfall - something, she admitted, she had done many times before while hiking in the park.

Now Brown has become a safety advocate. She plans to videotape a public-service announcement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that will be promoted on social media and elsewhere, cautioning hikers to stay on marked trails.

Paul Baker II, assistant manager of Hocking Hills State Park and a park-officer supervisor, remembers Brown well. Baker was her attendant during the rescue, harnessed to the basket in a standing position alongside the patient as other members of the rescue team lifted the load.

Baker and the rope team also cannot forget other people they have rescued from cliff falls or from being stranded on a ledge, unable to make their way back to the trail.

Last year, the area off the trails was deadly for some in the Hocking Hills region about 50 miles southeast of Columbus. Three people were killed falling off cliffs between April 27 and May 20, including two hikers at Hocking Hills State Park and a rock rappeller in Hocking State Forest. Their bodies were recovered without rope rescue.

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