Westmont Magazine Miracle at Tangerine Falls Transcends Soccer
By John Zant, News-Press Senior Writer
Excerpts from an Aug. 29 article in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Not everybody heard the scream, but those who did will never forget it.
“It was the most terrifying scream I’ve ever heard,” said Jeff Oehlman, one of four Westmont College soccer players who had hiked up Cold Spring Canyon to the top of Tangerine Falls last Feb. 2.
There was a puff of dust on the ledge where one of them, freshman T.J. McKillop, had been standing.
Two hundred feet below, Marlan Walker heard the scream too.
“At first he thought somebody was goofing off, but then he realized it was the sound of terror,” said Tina Walker, his wife. “He saw the young man coming down the falls. He hit two or three times. I had my back to the falls and don’t remember seeing or hearing anything. Then he landed right at my feet. He was on his back. His eyes were wide open.
“I thought he was dead.”
Tina Walker reached down and found a pulse in McKillop’s carotid artery. She knew exactly what she was doing. T.J. McKillop had fallen at the feet of a registered nurse.
That was one of several circumstances that seemed to be part of a divine plan for him to survive the horrifying accident.
The Walkers had started their hike up the canyon, along with their son Gregory and another family, later than they had planned that Sunday afternoon. “If we’d kept our schedule, we wouldn’t have been there,” Tina Walker said.
Marlan Walker had thrown a cell phone into his pack at the last minute. He found some high ground near the falls from where he was able to call 911.
Sarah Lee, another hiker, happened upon the scene. She was an emergency-room physician.
There were large rocks all around the bottom of the falls, but McKillop had landed in a shallow pool of water.
Still, the 200-foot tumble had left him battered and bleeding. Tina Walker feared the worst as Dr. Lee checked him for broken bones and internal damage.
“I worked in intensive care, and I’ve seen simple things like choking on a piece of candy take people’s lives,” Walker said. “I’ve never seen somebody survive something of this magnitude. I assumed he had at least broken his back.”
McKillop became conscious after a few minutes. He did not remember falling. He wondered who all those people were.
“I tried to keep him from panicking,” Walker said. “I said, ‘You’re going to be OK . . . Don’t move.’ Then we asked him to wiggle his toes, and he did. I thought, ‘I can’t believe this. There must be something important for this kid to do in his life. He has been preserved.’ ”
McKillop’s three hiking companions — Jeff Oehlman, his older brother Mark, and J.J. Bailey — scrambled down a steep slope.
“They were terribly shaken,” Walker said. “They got around in a circle and said a prayer for him. So many kids nowadays are focused on themselves and having fun. It was an incredible example of faith in young men.”
A rescue squad from the Montecito Fire Department arrived. McKillop was secured to a backboard and placed on a litter. A helicopter dropped a line. It lifted the injured student, along with a paramedic, out of the deep canyon. The pilot found a safe landing spot nearby so McKillop could be put inside the copter and flown to the hospital.
It soon hit T.J. McKillop that he was very lucky to be alive. A single misstep had transformed him from a strong, sure-footed soccer player into a human punching bag for rugged fists of sandstone. He had deep bruises from his ordeal, including a lung contusion and a subdural hematoma in his head. But he hadn’t broken any bones, and prompt medical attention had arrested his injuries.
So many things had to happen for him to survive that McKillop says it was more than coincidence.
“It’s amazing the power that God holds,” he said last week. “It’s a blessing that God has healed me so far.”
“In my opinion, T.J. should not be alive today,” [Walker] said. “I felt we were participants in a miracle.”
Read the complete article at: www.westmont.edu/sport/msoccer_news.html#Anchor-Miracl-9866