Twenty-five will always be a memorable birthday for Gil Tighe.
The Portland resident set out Friday for the Oregon coast, hoping to celebrate the milestone a day early with a partner.
By the end of the celebration, Tighe was in the hospital after falling 100 feet off a cliff. After a challenging rescue and two helicopter rides, Tighe is happy to be alive and telling the story.
Tighe said the couple arrived at Hug Point, a state recreation site just south of Cannon Beach, in the afternoon. The two hung out on the beach, ate cake and took pictures.
Around 4 p.m., the pair decided to explore. From previous visits, they knew of an area at Hug Point that, at low tide, allows hikers to get to the other side of the cove.
The tide was too high to access it, but the couple found what appeared to be some human-made trails through the grass that looked as if they might lead to the same place. Tighe went first because the trails looked a little slippery.
For the first few feet, Tighe was holding onto a wall along the trail for support. But a few steps in, Tighe suddenly lost footing and skidded on dirt and rocks for about 10 feet, trying to stop before a sudden drop.
“I don’t even remember the fall itself. It kind of felt like I was having a dream,” Tighe said. “Even waking up on the rocks, covered in blood, I still felt like I was having a dream.”
Tighe said paramedics estimated the cliff was about 100 feet high. After regaining consciousness at the bottom of the cliff, Tighe heard their partner yelling that they had called 911.
Without glasses, which had been lost in the fall, Tighe couldn’t see the extent of their injuries but immediately realized an arm was broken.
While waiting for paramedics, Tighe crawled around the rocks and eventually found their cellphone. Tighe called their partner, who relayed information as rescue crews arrived.
“It’s the most millennial thing ever,” Tighe said with a laugh. “I just fell a thousand feet and I’m wondering where my phone is.”
The rescue itself was tough, Tighe said.
It took rescue crews from the Seaside Fire Department several minutes to find a way down the cliff. Once they arrived, they gave Tighe basic first aid. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrived to help, but it took about 25 minutes to get into a position to hoist Tighe up and onto the helicopter.
“I was so certain I was going to die,” Tighe said. “The paramedics kept telling me to stay awake and talk to them.”
Tighe was flown to Astoria, then transferred to a helicopter ambulance for the trip to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
Tighe was discharged Sunday and has several weeks of recovery ahead, with a broken right arm and a fractured left elbow, eye orbit and ribs.
“I didn’t break any teeth, no brain damage, no damage to my spine,” Tighe said. “I feel so fortunate that I walked out with my life and no permanent damage.”
Tighe thanked the paramedics, rescue crews and hospital staff.
This time last year, Tighe said, their birthday landed just days before the world moved into coronavirus lockdown. Tighe wondered how to make this birthday as notable.
It now represents something remarkable.
“Half a century old and I learned to defy death,” Tighe said. “I’d say falling off a cliff and surviving is a lot more memorable than a party.”
—Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; firstname.lastname@example.org; @JRamakrishnanOR