An 18-year-old high school student from Signal Hill died Wednesday while trying to save a friend who couldn’t swim after the pair jumped from the top of Hermit Falls in the Angeles National Forest, according to witnesses.
First responders were dispatched to the 2200 block of Santa Anita Canyon Road near Chantry Flat Truck Trail (map) shortly after 8:45 a.m., according to Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Rick Flores.
The victim — later identified as Jesse Yuth — had jumped from the top of the waterfall into the pool below and was injured, Sheriff’s Department homicide Sgt. Chaffey Shepherd said.
Yuth was with a group of friends enjoying spring break at the falls when he and a female friend decided to jump from the top of the waterfall while holding hands, according to Yuth’s cousin, David Chhom.
Yuth had made the jump before but the young woman couldn’t swim and started to sink as soon as she hit the frigid water, Chhom said.
“He tried to save her but the water was really cold,” Chhom said.
When Chhom realized the pair were in trouble he jumped in to help. He managed to pull the girl to the side of the pool and went back for Yuth, he said. But by the time he reached his cousin, it was too late.
“He was done … gray eyes … purple lip,” he said.
Authorities said it was possible Yuth struck a rock inside the pool.
“When he finally did come up, they noticed that he was bleeding from the nose,” Shepherd said.
Witnesses administered CPR but it was too late, authorities said.
Two other people were airlifted from the scene and treated for hypothermia at Foothill Presbyterian Hospital in Glendora, where they were interviewed by sheriff’s investigators, authorities said.
Yuth’s father, a Cambodian genocide survivor, said his son had “a brave heart.”
“He tried to save her and … dies a hero,” his father Matthew Soth said.
The senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School was a member of ROTC and was planning to join the Army in July.
Hermit Falls, which is located north of Arcadia, is an area popular with cliff jumpers. The falls can be reached by a 1.3-mile hiking trail out of Chantry Flat in Santa Anita Canyon, north of Arcadia and Sierra Madre.
Hikers can scramble down the rocks to the base of the falls, or can make the dangerous leap from the top into the pool below.
“Why do people do it? The thrill, the adrenaline rush,” said cliff jumper Christopher Denning. “Not many other places are going to give you the feeling you’re just floating through air.”
A 19-year-old Cal State Fullerton student died at the falls in November 2013 after jumping from some rocks into a pool of water.
A fund has been set up to help Yuth’s family. If you’d like to help, click here.
KTLA’s Jennifer Thang contributed to this story.