EGREMONT, MASSACHUSETTS — Aiden Campion-Pratt, 21, of Ghent was swimming with a friend in an upper pool of Bash Bish Falls, when he slipped off a rock and fell into the water, according to police.
Officials could not say how far Campion-Pratt fell.
“This was a witnessed accident,” Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said Monday.
It led to a three-day search that ended tragically for his family and first responders who tried desperately, under treacherous conditions, to save him.
The search began Friday evening with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office responding to the call. On Friday evening, the focus shifted to the Massachusetts side of the falls, with Massachusetts State Police taking over the investigation.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office got the call at 8:16 p.m., and immediately dispatched dive teams and requested backup after arriving on the scene. Emergency personnel — including firefighters, emergency medical services, dive teams — from all over Columbia and Greene counties responded.
Bartlett was one of the Columbia County emergency personnel who jumped in to help rescue Campion-Pratt. He, like many there, hoped to bring good news back to Campion-Pratt’s family, who was waiting nearby, he said.
But, in the dark, the wet, jagged rocks made the terrain difficult and dangerous for rescuers.
“The terrain is extremely treacherous,” Bartlett said. “Sheer rock cliffs, slippery rocks, treacherous swift water and the lack of light in a remote area absolutely hampered our efforts to locate this individual.”
“We had two teams – one from bottom coming from top,” he said. “You can’t comprehend how treacherous it was. I know my team, when we lowered my diver, on one side there was a 100-foot cliff and on the other side there was an 80-foot cliff. It was extremely dangerous up there.”
Bash Bish Falls is located next to the 4,169-acre Mount Washington State Forest, which has over 30 miles of trails and adjoins the 5,000-acre Taconic State Park, according to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website. Bash Bish Falls is accessible by a moderately difficult uphill foot trail, the website said.
Even though Massachusetts had taken over as lead agency, Columbia County teams, in a show of solidarity, stayed two more days to help Massachusetts teams continue the search.
But, by early Saturday, officials reluctantly were forced to change the nature of the mission from rescue to recovery, Bartlett said.
Campion-Pratt’s body was eventually located at around 12:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
It was a devastating outcome for all the teams who fought so hard and so long under treacherous conditions to rescue him, Bartlett said.
The disappointment and sadness felt and shared by the rescuers upon hearing the news was “difficult to describe,” he said.
“Obviously everyone involved is heartsick in the ultimate outcome,” Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless said in a statement. “These were great efforts, under difficult and dangerous conditions, that should be recognized, and I want to extend my personal thanks to the many agencies that worked together tirelessly.
“So many agencies came together to work to one end that unfortunately could not happen.”
Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation personnel, the office of Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett and Berkshire County Sheriff Tomas Bowler responded.
Also involved in the weekend-long effort were the New York Sheriff’s Department in Columbia County, the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department, Massachusetts State Police, Pittsfield Fire Department, Egremont Fire Department, Southern Berkshire Ambulance Squad, state troopers assigned to the Lee, Massachusetts, barracks, New York State Police, Copake Fire Department, Columbia County Fire Coordinator, Berkshire County Fire Coordinator and Fastracs Excavating of Red Hook, according to the statement from the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.
A helicopter from the Massachusetts Police attempted to search the falls utilizing infrared scanners as well as spotlights.
Then they received more devastating news. Because of where the body was found, emergency responders could not retrieve it from the water. After several hours, and with heavy hearts, teams had to give up recovery efforts.
“It’s impossible to get him out of the area,” Bartlett said. “It is impossible to retrieve the body from that area because of the terrain and the characteristics of the gorge.”
Divers with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office are all certified and are experienced, having completed hundreds of hours of search and rescue training, Bartlett said.
“If it was a point of diving, we in Columbia County have those capabilities,” he said. “It is because you’re in a gorge. The rock walls, rock ledges and the voids in the rock made it impossible to reach him.”
The sheriff’s office also reached out to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard for help, but they could provide no solutions. Ultimately, there was nothing they could do, he said.
“Of the hundreds of years of experience among the firefighters, rescue squads and police, no one had ever seen anything like this,” he said.
Messages left with the Massachusetts State Police and Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office were not answered on Monday.
The location where the incident occurred is a section of the park that is always closed to the public due to the dangerous terrain, state officials said.
Signs posted around the falls alert visitors to restricted areas, according to the conservation and recreation department.
“I would ask that people just keep in mind there is a family that is grieving,” Bartlett said. “Keep the family in their thoughts and prayers. This is a terrible thing to have happened to anyone. I know our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to email@example.com, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.