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Teenager survives fall during hike near Hawksbill Crag in northwest Arkansas

Samuel Roberts is in the hospital in Harrison.

March 11, 2013|by Gene Hartley |

RYKER, Ark. -- A teenager is injured after he fell about 35 feet in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area south of Boxley.  Samuel Roberts, 18, of Conway is in the hospital in Harrison with a broken back and arm.

Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape says Roberts was hiking up a steep narrow trail at Haley Zega Falls about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.  That’s near the trail to Whitaker Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag.  He was with some friends.

Slape says Roberts fell about 35 feet.  About 40 emergency responders from area fire departments, law agencies, National Park Service and National Forest Service helped rescue him.  Noted wildlife photographer Tim Ernst says he helped locate Roberts and called his location to the sheriff’s department.

Rescuers couldn't fly him out, so Roberts went by ground ambulance to the hospital in Harrison.  A hospital spokeswoman said Roberts was listed in stable condition on Monday afternoon.


The falls are about a mile from Whitaker Point, close to the headwaters of the Buffalo River in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest.  The drop that Roberts took is considerably shorter than the fall off Whitaker Point.  Two people died after falling near there in the last three years.

Last December, Austin Elder, 19, of Fort Smith, fell 100 feet just east of the crag.  He was viewing the stars at 3 a.m. while camping nearby with a friend.  Elder lived several days in critical condition at a hospital before dying from his injuries.  In April 2010, former Kansas State University quarterback Dylan Meier died after falling about a half mile away from the crag.

[Editor's note: Ernst says no one has fallen off Hawksbill Crag/Whitaker Point in modern times. He says the landmark is getting a bad rap because of the recent accidents near it.]

Haley Zega Falls is named for a 6-year-old girl, Haley Zega of Fayetteville, who survived 51 hours alone in the wilderness after getting separated from her grandparents on a Sunday hiking trip in April 2001 because they wouldn’t take her to the falls.  Dozens of volunteers and emergency responders looked for her with helicopters and heat sensing equipment, but two local men on mules, William Jeff Villines and Lytle James, found her with sitting on a rock with her feet dangling in the water.  She was scratched up from briars but otherwise okay. 

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