Firefighters who rescued 17-year-old from Hanging Rock speak; brother gives update

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- About two and a half weeks after 17-year-old Jason Messer fell 40 feet down a cliff at Hanging Rock State Park, his brother says he is making progress.

“He’s moving his extremities, not a whole lot, just a little bit,” said Samuel Messer.

Samuel added that Jason is no longer in a medically-induced coma and is not paralyzed, but is still unconscious and has a long way to go.

“It shook the brain around, it’s almost like a concussion times 10,” Samuel said, about the fall.

Meanwhile, for the first time, we’re hearing from some of the firefighters credited with Jason’s rescue.

“The terrain was awful,” said Z.T. Smith, of the Winston-Salem Fire Department’s Rescue One. “It’s not just a straight rock face, it had turns, there were trees coming out, there were rock outcroppings, there were cliffs.”

Smith added that the rescue operation took place in the dark, adding to the challenge.

“The only light that you have up there is what you bring with you,” he said.

In the dark, the firefighters relied on the voices of other first responders already with Jason as a guide.

“We got a job to do and an individual’s life may directly hinge on what decisions you make,” said Christopher Keistler, of Rescue One.

Smith said they had to hike up to the scene, before securing Jason, and using multiple sets of ropes to get him back down; all while maintaining a flow of oxygen to his lungs.

“They’ve got an airway in him and they’re breathing for him,” Keistler said. “You may not be able to see the guy that’s lowering you. You may not be able to see where you’re going. Couple that with mountainous terrain, and a critical patient, it is stressful knowing that that pressure’s on you.”

Samuel says he has unconditional love and appreciation for the first responders responsible for saving Jason’s life.

“If he would have been down there for any longer then he was, then he probably would have been dead,” Samuel said. “I don’t know how to repay the men and women that helped rescue my brother.”

Samuel added that there is no timetable for Jason’s recovery or release from the hospital.

“He’s a strong kid. He’s a fighting kid,” he said. “He doesn’t give up.”

Both Samuel and the firefighters say it’s a lesson in safety while visiting parks such as Hanging Rock.

“It only takes a second for something to happen,” Keistler said. “It can take seconds and that’s all it needs.”

Samuel tells FOX8 that people should not only watch their step and take extra precautions, but to always bring a friend with you in case an accident happens.

“Anything and everything can happen at any moment,” he said.