Ariz. Hiker Survives After Falling 70 Feet and Getting Stuck in Canyon for 24 Hours: 'I'm Lucky'
An Arizona man is lucky to be alive after he fell close to 70 feet while hiking a trail solo and became stranded in a canyon for an entire day.
Jacob Velarde knows things could've turned out very differently last Tuesday after the Indian Maiden Falls trail he was hiking on fell apart beneath him, causing the 24-year-old to fall nearly seven stories below the surface.
With a skull fracture, orbital fracture, broken ankle, broken nose and multiple cuts and bruises from the fall, Velarde found himself stranded in the canyon for 24 hours until a family of hikers discovered and rescued him the next day.
"Right now, I just feel blessed," he tells PEOPLE. "In all honesty, I shouldn't have been able to survive a fall like that."
Velarde, an experienced hiker who typically goes about once a month, told NBC affiliate KPNX that he initially planned to embark on a 12-mile overnight trip with his brother.
His brother, however, decided to go back to the car early after seeing how steep and rocky the terrain was in just the first mile of the trail.
Comfortable hiking alone, Velarde gave his brother the car keys and agreed to meet up with him the next day, KPNX reported.
Around 8 a.m. that morning, the 24-year-old said he "took a wrong turn," ultimately leading him to an area of the Camp Verde trail that fell apart beneath him.
Though Velarde tells PEOPLE that he doesn't remember much about the fall because "it just happened so fast," he confirmed on Facebook that he dropped between 50 and 70 feet.
"Doctors said I'm lucky that I'm not more injured," he explained beside a photo of his swollen, bloodied, and cut-up face.
Once he landed and gathered himself, Velarde went into survival mode, crediting his past experience as a Boy Scout and the EMT classes he took in college for helping him stay confident that he would make it out alive despite being alone.
"It was a bit scary and painful, but it was all about keeping my injuries from getting worse and staying hydrated," he explains to PEOPLE. "With the knowledge I had from both of those, I knew that I'd be able to take care of myself. I figured that if I was able to survive the fall, I knew I'd survive the rest."
Velarde also notes that he remained calm because he knew his brother would go searching for him if he didn't turn up the next day.
"My brother knew where I was and was expecting me the next day by noon," he explains. "He would have called for help to save me."
Luckily, it didn't get to that point, and a family who had been hiking the same route as Velarde stumbled upon the injured hiker in the canyon the next morning around 8 a.m.
"I honestly thought I was imagining them, but I was extremely excited," Velarde recalls, noting that the family called for help to get him rescued.
First responders later airlifted Velarde to the hospital, where he was treated for his multiple injuries, according to KPNX.
As he continues to recover both physically and mentally from the traumatic experience, Velarde says he hopes his story serves as a cautionary tale for people who are considering hiking alone.
"I just want to make sure everyone knows the risks and that it's better just playing it safe on a hike," he shares. "I probably won't be doing any solo hikes soon, but eventually, I will be doing it again. I'll just be more prepared and safe [next time.]"
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