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Calgary man who plunged 45 metres down waterfall calls survival ‘a miracle’

A Calgary hairstylist remembers feeling like he was in a dream — or nightmare — when he slipped on moss-covered rocks near the top of a B.C. waterfall, then fell screaming 45 metres to a small pool below.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bilal El Ajami said of his luck surviving relatively unscathed. “Like, no one believes me. It’s unbelievable.”

He plummeted down a waterfall after slipping on a hike in Fintry Provincial Park near Vernon on Sunday. The sudden tumble shocked other hikers, who screamed as El Ajami dragged himself out of the shallow, narrow pool where he landed.

“I told them I’m fine,” El Ajami told CBC’s Calgary Eyeopener. “I had to calm myself down because, you know, I’m still alive and God gave me another chance.”

Even the rescuers said it’s miraculous he survived the long, vertical drop.

El Ajami is very much alive. On Thursday morning, he woke in a hotel in Las Vegas, where he’s on a trip with his friends.

He doesn’t drink or gamble but thought he might bring good luck to his friends. The trip was planned before his accident.

“I’m telling you, it was a miracle,” he said.

Crossed barrier

The 25-year-old had taken a vacation from his job at the Marda Loop Barber Shop to explore Kelowna, B.C., and the surrounding area with friends. The group had planned an hour hike in Fintry Provincial Park.

They followed a trail to a dead end. A barrier allowed only a peek at the waterfall.

I started screaming, ‘No, no, no.’— Bilal El Ajami

“Just like everybody, I was taking pictures. It was a beautiful view from the top,” El Ajami said.

He crossed the barrier and dropped his phone about a metre away. He walked down and grabbed it, but spotted an enticing small pool at the bottom of the falls.

“So I hike down. It was literally a two-minute hike,” El Ajami said.

Hugging a rock

As he was waiting for his friend to join him roughly six metres down the slope, he saw more of the waterfall. But then El Ajami stepped on moss-covered rocks.

​”And I slipped. I tried to hold on a tree. I couldn’t. I tried to grab onto rocks left and right. I started screaming, ‘No, no, no,'” he said.

Trust me, death can come in less than a second.— Bilal El Ajami

“I was like, ‘I’m dreaming, I’m actually dreaming I’m falling over a waterfall,’ so I just closed my eyes and waited to crash.”

El Ajami came to at the bottom of the narrow pool and swam out.

“I think I passed out at that time for a minute or two because then I woke up hugging a rock,” he said.

He couldn’t move his left arm or his back. After realizing what happened, he spotted a dry area along the edge. He dragged his body there with his right arm and sat on top of the rock.

He heard people screaming at him, terrified by what they’d witnessed.

‘We were just amazed’

El Ajami believes he survived because he landed in a shallow, narrow pool where the waterfall hits before flowing further down the slope.

“One millimetre wrong, I could’ve been gone. But I was super lucky,” he said.

El Ajami was well prepared for climbing, according to Vernon Search and Rescue director Trevor Honigman, but was smart to wait for rescuers, rather than attempting the climb out alone.

“We were just amazed he made it,” Honigman said earlier this week.

El Ajami plunged 45 metres and landed in a shallow, narrow pool, where the waterfall hits before flowing further down the slope.(CBC)

El Ajami said he’s too sore to work at his job at the moment, so the current vacation in Las Vegas brings rest and distraction.

His left arm has regained movement but his shoulder is still sore, he said. He has scratches on his palm, left shoulder and back. He’s able to walk but is stiff and in pain when sleeping and sitting.

“I feel great, to be honest,” he said, adding he’s trying to be careful.

Co-workers shocked

At the barber shop, stylists are talking about how to support their colleague, nicknamed Billy, until he can return to work.

“I just thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God, we almost lost Billy.’ I’m just glad he’s OK,” Newf Souraya said.

“He’s family to us, so anything he needs, we’re always there for him,” he added.

Bilal El Ajami, from left, and his coworkers Newf Souraya and Tony Sleiman sported green beards on St. Patrick’s Day.(Newf Souraya/Marda Loop Barber Shop)

El Ajami said he will be more careful on future hikes — not that he’s planning any soon.

“I’m not even going to cross any limits. That’s why they made them, right? But it was, you know, just because I love the views, I love the pools, I love being in the water,” he said.

“I hope it’s a lesson for everybody, especially who love hiking, [to] be careful and to be worried about everything.

“Because, trust me, death can come in less than a second, because the whole thing took me two, three seconds, and actually, it was a little scary.”

With files from Lisa Robinson and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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