Wolfe County Search And Rescue chief recovering, team evaluating equipment after big fall

Posted at 4:41 PM, Jul 07, 2019

WOLFE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The chief of the Wolfe County Search and Rescue team is grateful to be alive, and grateful for his crew this Sunday night.

He took a big fall while repelling during a rescue mission at the Red River Gorge last week. But his team sprang into action, and he’s now back home recovering.

“The doctor told my wife at the ER that I shouldn't be there. He said I should be dead,” said John May.

On July 4th May responded to a pretty typical call about a lost hiker near Chimney Rock.

“We had trained at this location in the past several times, so we were very familiar with it,” said May.

May said the fastest way to get to this hiker was to repel down to her.

“As soon as I started over the cliff, I realized that I was having difficulty in controlling my descent. So the speed, normally you can lock yourself off and stop, but in this case I was unable to stop. As I continued down the cliff, the speed kept picking up,” said May.

He was now in a free fall situation.

May said he went through a tree and hit the ground really hard.

He played through the entire traumatic scenario in a detailed Facebook post.

“I remember being at peace when I was at the bottom of the cliff. I didn't have any fear. I felt some sadness for my wife and family who was back here watching fireworks,” said May.

May got emotional talking about how impressed he was watching his team and the US Forestry Service work so cohesively to save his life.

“In my mind it's not about what I did. I didn't do anything wrong. The team didn't do anything wrong. It ended up with a terrible accident, but my team members in probably one of the most stressful situations with their chief possibly dead at the bottom of a cliff, jumped into action,” said May.

May has two fractured vertebrae and some pretty beat up fingers, but will make a full recovery.

The Wolfe County Search and Rescue Team wrote on their Facebook page that they have conducted an internal review about what happened.

The Facebook post states that the system was rigged within manufacturer recommendations and backup safety measures were used appropriately. However, the combination of this particular rappel device and the overall rappelling load may have a contributing factor. Chief May was said to have a total load of 252 pounds including his body weight and additional rescue equipment he was carrying.

The group wrote that they are evaluating how they will use that specific rappel moving forward.