Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald Johnny Marcello jumps into the swimming hole at Eagle Falls with Ian Vincent, left, and Bostin Otto, center, looking on Thursday morning just outside Index, WA on July 14, 2016.

Eagle Falls near Index risky for swimmers, rescue crews

INDEX — The water’s not the only danger at Eagle Falls, a popular swimming hole on the South Fork Skykomish River, about four miles east of Index.

Already this year, there’s been an increase in rescues at the falls, Index Fire Chief Ernie Walters said. Emergency crews are being summoned there several times a month. The hotter-than-normal spring was a likely factor, he said.

“We’ve had calls out there in March and April for people getting injured, when normally you don’t get them until June or July,” he said. “I know we’ve had more in the beginning of the year so far than we’ve had previously.”

Most of those 911 calls have been for people slipping on rocks, though sometimes the mishaps involve cliff diving and awkward landings. There haven’t been life-threatening injuries lately so much as broken bones, Walters said. One man had suspected spinal injuries that turned out to be less serious once he got to the hospital.

“We get a lot of ankle injuries out there,” Walters said. “It’s an uneven climbing area.”

The rescue part is complicated though. It usually involves rappelling.

“The only way to get to them realistically is set up a rope system and bring them up that way,” Walters said. “We can’t effectively pack them out. You have to go through water. We try not to get them into the water if we can. That’s why we’ve had to use ropes.”

Conditions are always changing along Snohomish County rivers. The county tourism site describes Eagle Falls as a “noisy 25- to 40-foot cascade.”

Three years ago, an 18-year-old man drowned in the area of Eagle Falls. His body was found about 200 feet from the base. He was not wearing a life jacket. The water’s frigid temperature likely was a factor in the death, officials said at the time.

There can be hundreds of people out there on a sunny day, mostly children and teenagers, Walters said. He reminds people to remember not to drink alcohol and swim, and that loaner life jackets are available at the fire department in Index, as well as stations in Gold Bar, Monroe and Sultan.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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