First responder loses life in rescue attempt

Eldon Jamison
Eldon Jamison

After decades of faithfully serving Western North Carolina as a member of the Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad, Eldon Jamison lost his life Monday night while attempting to rescue a 24-year old who had fallen into the water at the base of Whitewater Falls in Transylvania County. 

Jamison’s nephew, Dale Curtis, wrote about his uncle and his unwavering dedication to public service.

 “To say the world has lost a wonderful human being would be the epitome of understatement. Eldon was more than a first responder. He was, in fact, a paramedic, and long-time member of the Glenville – Cashiers Rescue Squad. He was a member of their high line rescue and swift water rescue teams. Still, he was so much more. He had hundreds of hours of advanced training, and even more actual experience. Still, he was so much more.

“What I’d like you to know isn’t just how we lost Eldon. No, I’d like you to know the man he was. He was, as I said before, “so much more.” As was the all-too-frequent norm, he heard the call for help go out, and without hesitation or thought of self, he answered that call. But unlike the thousands of times before, today would be different. Today, he would once again be traversing the familiar descent down the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains. Today, like a thousand times before, he would be attempting to rescue someone he’d never even met. More even than that, no one honestly expected to find the victim alive. And so it was, Eldon was in truth risking his life to recover a victim’s remains. He wasn’t risking his life for money; they’re not paid all that well. He wasn’t risking his life for fame; for as we’ve seen, even the ultimate sacrifice barely gets him a mention on the local news channels. No, he risked his life so that victim’s loved ones would have closure and know what had become of them. That, my friends, is who he was. Growing up, I remember many, many Christmas and holiday family gatherings when my Uncle had to leave in the middle of dinner to answer that very same call. My family worried about him the entire time he was out, but I never did. You see, Eldon was a hero to me. He was indestructible, and I just knew he’d always come home safe. I knew that because of him, someone else’s loved one would come home too. Later in life as I grew older, my confidence in and admiration of my Uncle only grew. I studied and learned all I could about high angle rescue, and that knowledge served to solidify my confidence in Eldon’s skill. More importantly, I came to know him as a devout man of God, exemplary in the way he lived his life. He was a quiet man, talking very little, but always, and I do mean always, walking the walk. So I didn’t worry about my Uncle. Then, today came.

“Today, just like thousands of times before, my Uncle again answered that familiar call. Without hesitation, he went over those falls, clinging only to a half inch rope, to rescue another as he’d done so many times before. But today, God had other plans for my Uncle. Today, Eldon answered the higher call that awaits us all. Today, with little or no thoughts of self, he died as he had lived his life; giving his all to aid his fellow man. That’s just who he was. That’s what I want you to know about my Uncle Eldon.

“Like most, I took our men and women in these roles for granted, never truly appreciating what they did. Even though many years ago, in my younger days as a volunteer fireman, I went headlong into numerous burning buildings. My friends and I saw our share of death and tragedy. Even then, I didn’t truly appreciate the gravity of the situation. It never occurred to me, we might not be coming home. Years after leaving the fire department, I still took our firemen, EMS, and rescue personnel for granted. The dangers I faced were never real to me, and I gave little thought to the dangers they faced. Then, today came. Today, the exuberance, arrogance, and naiveté of my youth gives way to a painful and bitter truth. That truth is every time any of these brave men and women choose to answer that call, it could easily be at the expense of their very lives. Today, that truth was driven home to me with painful and everlasting clarity. After all, if this could happen to my Uncle, the best trained and most knowledgeable person I had ever known, it could happen to anyone.

“And so it is that today, in remembrance of my Uncle, and in honor of him and all the other men and women who answer that call, I ask you for just a minute of your lives. Only a minute, that’s all it takes. Take that minute and pray for them. Pray for their safety. Be thankful God saw fit to send them here to answer that call, despite the very real chance they themselves might not return home. Like my Uncle, they deserve that minute.

“My Uncle was a kind and wonderful soul, and I shall miss him tremendously. I wish everyone could have known him as I did. Perhaps not as a hero, but as the loving, giving, selfless soul he was. Godspeed, and God bless you, Uncle Eldon Jamison. I love you.”

Jamison responded to a 911 call to Jackson County Emergency Management shortly after 9 p.m. on Monday requesting mutual aid in Transylvania County regarding a person who had gone over Whitewater Falls. The Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad and other responders worked diligently to locate the victim until storms rolled in around 1 a.m. Due to safety concerns, the search was temporarily suspended. The rescue team returned at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning. 

A rugged remote high line operations rappelling team, which included Jamison searched for the victim. Jamison fell from a rope during the search and did not survive the fall. 

Chandler Manuel, 24, from Rockwell, N.C., has been identified as the victim, but the search for his remains was ongoing as of Wednesday, May 6.