SOS saved hiker’s life, now she’s paying it forward

Jen Edwards suffered a broken neck in a 60-foot fall in southern Oregon

Jennifer Edwards is recuperating after she fell on the Illinois River Trail, October 5, 2016 (KOIN)
Jennifer Edwards is recuperating after she fell on the Illinois River Trail, October 5, 2016 (KOIN)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Jen Edwards and her golden doodle Ruben took off September 17 on an 8-day backpacking trip hiking the Illinois River Trail.

She had never backpacked alone before, but said she wanted to “really test my strength, my mental toughness and my physical toughness and get through” the trail west of Gold Beach in southern Oregon

Jennifer Edwards shortly before she fell on the Illinois River Trail, September 17, 2016 (Courtesy: Jennifer Edwards)
Jennifer Edwards shortly before she fell on the Illinois River Trail, September 17, 2016 (Courtesy: Jennifer Edwards)

The 36-year-old mother of 2 needed all of that. On the first day of the hike, about 10 miles in to the 60-mile hike, she fell around Silver Creek. She lost her footing, went down “and slipped into the shale.”

She fell about 60 feet, she said. “I hit my head really hard, probably on the last rock boulder that was there. Then I landed face down in the creek.”

The water was shallow and she army-crawled out of the creek with a 40-pound pack on to get to drier land.

“I had my inReach around my neck, and I just immediately grabbed it and hit the SOS button.”

The inReach is a satellite communicator that allows users to type, send, receive, track and send an SOS in one hand-held device.

Edwards said she sent a message to her fiance’ and posted the SOS to Facebook “knowing that if I lost consciousness I had an SOS and a message to Matt.”

The inReach is a satellite communicator that allows users to type, send, receive, track ans send an SOS in one hand-held device.

The SOS went to the sheriff’s office and the GPS gave a pinpoint latitude and longitude to search-and-rescue crews from Josephine and Curry counties.

But that was just the start of a 21-hour rescue effort. The first rescuer to reach her was Ruben, her dog, who reached her about 45 minutes after she fell.

That night, as she laid waiting for help, she heard rustling and didn’t know what it was. Ruben let out a big bark and Edwards turned on the flashlight.

“It was the butt of a black bear running back up the trail,” she told KOIN 6 News. “My mighty golden doodle scared him off pretty good.”

She stayed focused and positive. The first search-and-rescue volunteer got to her around 11:45 p.m., and that, she said, “was the first moment I cried.”

He stayed with her through the night and the next morning a US Coast Guard rescue helicopter arrived and hoisted her to safety a short while later.

Though she suffered a concussion, a broken hand and broken neck, she said she feels blessed.

“I’m alive. I get to hold my daughter, I get to listen to her laugh.”

GoFundMe – Satellite Communicators for SAR teams

And she felt she needed to pay it forward. So she decided to raise money to get the satellite communicators for search-and-rescue crews to help them communicate during rescues.

She said her family was worried about her going alone on the hike, so she did some research before her trip. That’s where she found the inReach communicator and paid for a monthly service that allowed her to have unlimited texting during her trip.

“I can’t think of a better way to say thank you than to provide (search-and-rescue crews) with tools to make it easier to find people in the future,” she said.