Family Holds on to Hope As Teen Hiker Recovers from Fall

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The family of Austin Elder is hopeful as the 19-year-old from Fort Smith recovers from a 100-foot fall off a bluff.

Elder is being treated for multiple injuries at a Springfield, Mo., hospital.

He is in stable but critical condition after falling from a bluff at Whitaker Point in Newton County early Saturday morning (Dec. 8).

The Facebook page "Prayers for Austin Elder," set up by the teen's loved ones, posted this status update Wednesday morning:

“We just met with the trauma doctor, Dr. Olivi. Dr. Lee is the Neurologist. He said the main concern is still the brain injury. He made the statement "if he wakes up" several times in the conversation. Austin's Mom set him straight. She let him know that he will be waking up and that he hadn't made it this far for him not to wake up. He is quite clear on how Mom feels.

They are talking to the orthopedic doctor now and he said the broken pelvis may heal on its own because he is lying still and may not even require surgery. He said we will address that next week. Mom gave him a big hug because he knew Austin would still be here next week.”

Posts earlier in the week indicated Elder's brain activity and blood counts are improving.

"His brain waves are spiking when we talk to him. HE HEARS US.....PRAISE GOD," the post read. "His vital signs are good, but he is still on the special ventilator at maximum levels."

Elder is at a trauma clinic at a Springfield, Mo., hospital according to Grand Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Crawford who spoke with the family.

"His body was broken in several places," Crawford said. "He's got a collapsed lung, broken pelvis, some other things. His bodily injuries are heal-able. He does have some sort of head injury. He's got some swelling in his brain. And that's what we need to pray for."

His congregation is very worried, after hearing the news according to Crawford. But he added that they are finding comfort in the fact that Elder survived the fall.

"I think it's nothing short of a miracle that he fell right about 100 feet and survived," says Tim Ernst who lives in the area and led rescue teams to Elder.

Ernst believes Elder hit a tree when he fell which saved his life. 

"Just before he the bottom there's a very small tree down there that I believe he hit the top of and that little tree slowed down just enough to save his life," said Ernst.  "About 10 or 12 feet up there was a fresh break and I looked down and literally right at his feet was the limb and right there was where he hit."

"We really feel like a miracle has happened," Crawford said. "We've heard some stories that through the years there have been numerous falls off this cliff, various accidents and this is the first one where there has not been a fatality. Now we just need his body to heal."

Dispatchers at Newton County Sheriffs Office told 5NEWS that Elder was with a friend camping near Whitaker Point. In the middle of the night, the two young men wandered to a bluff known as Hawksbill Crag.

"They were out looking at the stars about 2:30 or 3 Saturday morning," Crawford told the congregation. "They were next to the bluff. He stepped off to the side, got just a little bit too close and he fell."

"Of course it was very dark and foggy and I think that he simply got turned around and as he came back to where his friend was, he actually ended up on the other side of those rocks right there and simply walked off the bluff," said Ernst.

Dispatchers said Elder fell approximately a hundred feet.

The person Elder was with tried to call 911 from the bluff, but had a hard time getting a connection, according to dispatchers. He got one call through, but all police could hear was 'Hawksbill Crag'.

The friend eventually found his way back to their campsite about an hour later, where he was able to get a better connection, dispatchers said.

When dispatchers were finally able to get to Elder, he was unresponsive but was breathing and had a pulse.

"They tied up to these trees here went over the edge and actually brought him up the face off this 100 foot bluff that was much quicker an and easier on the patient rather than hauling him half a mile back up that direction and back to this point," added Ernst.

They were able to get him out of the forest and to the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison. Elder was then taken to a trauma clinic in Springfield, Mo.

Crawford said Elder's family is with him at the hospital, hoping he's able to recover from the injuries he sustained during the fall.

"You know, we're very concerned," Crawford said. "We're also very grateful that he's alive. Very hopeful that he can heal, but he has a long road to go. These are serious injuries and so our prayers are really with him right now in these critical hours post accident."

Numerous agencies responded to the scene, including the Buffalo National River's High-Angle Rescue Team,  the U.S. Forest Service, Buffalo Search and Rescue and Newton County Search and Rescue.

For updates on the teen's condition and to leave your thoughts with his family, visit

A bank account has been set up at Arvest bank to help the family with medical costs. Anyone interested in helping can stop by any Arvest branch and make a deposit into the "Arvest Cares Austin Elder Medical Account."

Click here for team coverage of the accident.