Location: Mt. Shasta, California
Date: February 14, 1991
On February 14, 1991, seventeen-year-old Christina Sousa and her fourteen-year-old best friend, Shante Spann, decided to cut school and go hiking in Box Canyon, a rugged, scenic area in Mt. Shasta, California. The girls found a trail and started down the treacherous canyon, where one-hundred-foot vertical walls of rock rise from the riverbed below. They then reached some large boulders that interrupted the trail. Chrissy decided to climb across the boulders. She hugged a rock and stepped over to the next one, but lost her footing and slipped off, falling forty feet down the shear rock wall.
Shante couldn't see where she had landed. She yelled to her and finally heard her moaning. Terrified, she ran down the canyon and found Chrissy lying on the ground, bleeding at the back of her head. Shante said she was going to get help, but Chrissy was scared and didn't want her to leave. Shante gave Chrissy her heart-shaped necklace and promised to return. "Keep looking at the heart," she told her. "You'll be okay. I'll be right back."
Shante climbed out of the canyon and was running down the road looking for help when she encountered classmate Gus Orosz and his friend. They all ran back to the canyon, and Gus hiked down to Chrissy. He found that he couldn't move her, so yelled to his friend to call 911. Shante stood at the top of the canyon to show rescuers where to go down while Gus waited with Chrissy.
Within five minutes, an ambulance and a unit from the Mt. Shasta Fire Department, trained in mountain rescue, arrived at the rim of the canyon. Paramedic Angelo Banos climbed down to Chrissy. Concerned about a possible spinal injury, and not wanting to risk moving her, he requested a helicopter.
Volunteer firefighter Phil Sousa was at work when he received word of the accident over his pager. He rushed to the scene, but was stopped by the fire chief, who didn't want Phil down in the canyon. He said that he thought the girl who'd fallen was his daughter. The news hit Phil hard. "Suddenly, you have them tell you that it's your kid," recalls Phil, "in one of the worst situations you've witnessed in eighteen years in the department. It's a real scary situation."
But Phil was determined to climb down and help with the rescue. He sent a friend to tell his wife, Jan, what had happened. Coincidentally, Jan was listening to news of the accident over the radio when Shante arrived at the house. " 'This call you're listening to, we think it's Chrissy in the canyon,' he told me," recalls Jan. "It was almost unbelievable. I couldn't picture it. It's like I denied it really was her."
When Phil reached Chrissy, he was greatly relieved that she was still in one piece. It was decided that a vertical rescue using ropes to bring Chrissy up the rock face in a litter was too risky for both firefighters and Chrissy. She would have to be evacuated by helicopter.
Pilot Bruce Riecke surveyed the scene from the air. The accident had occured in the worst possible place in the canyon and Riecke could not see a landing site. "When you first look down there," he recalls, "you can't believe someone could fall down there and survive." Finally Riecke thought he saw a landing site and lowered the helicopter down to a shallow part of the river at the bottom of the narrow canyon. Jan had arrived and watched from above as the helicopter departed with her daughter. "I felt this giant weight of relief," recalls Jan. "It was a very stirring thing to see them do this thing for my daughter. I'm not religious, but I felt as if angels had come and carried her off."
Chrissy was treated for a fractured skull, broken leg, and numerous cuts and bruises. Miraculously, she did not suffer a spinal injury. "I think it's a miracle that she did come out of the canyon," says Phil. "It makes you feel how precious life is. It could have been a real disaster." "I'm real glad my dad went down there," says Chrissy. "It's real difficult for him and I'm sorry he had to go through that, but I'm glad he helped me out."