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Body Slam

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Don’t jump!”

A gust of wind tore the shout from Mike Rosich’s mouth and blew it across the dark waters of the Snake River. From his position on a concrete pier under the Joso High Bridge, he could hear icy waves sloshing 20 feet below.

The afternoon air wasn’t cold, but he shivered. “Come on, Chris,” he yelled upward. “I’ll give you 50 bucks if you don’t do it.”

Gordon Onsager, standing beside Mike on the pier, added, “I’ll double it and give you another 50. This is crazy. You don’t have to do this.”

Clinging to the outer edge of the trestle far above them, Chris Yamamoto heard their words and hesitated. A couple weeks earlier Gordon had bet Chris that he wouldn’t jump from the huge Union Pacific Railroad bridge near Lyons Ferry in eastern Washington.

“Sure, I’ll do it,” Chris had said. Though he’d never seen the bridge, Chris loved a risk. Skydiving, bungee jumping, cliff jumping—he’d tried it all. He and Gordon pushed each other.

Now, staring down at Mike and Gordon, Chris shook his head. “Keep your money,” he yelled. “I just want to do it because I want to do it.”

It can’t be more than 120 feet, he reminded himself. Cliff divers in Hawaii jump this far all the time.

Already he’d been gripping the edge for more than 10 minutes, trying to convince himself to let go. He craned his neck toward another friend,

Ken Kooser, who waited above him with a camera. “This is really stupid, isn’t it?” Chris called.

“Yeah, Chris, it is,” Ken replied.

Chris looked back to the flowing water. Every fiber of his body pulsed with fear and adrenaline.

Fifteen minutes before, he’d laughingly handed his car keys to Ken and told him, “My medical insurance is in the glove compartment, if you need it.” Now he had to admit he’d never been so terrified in his life.

But he wouldn’t turn around now. “I’m ready.

Count me down,” he commanded Ken.

“Three,” Ken began.

Chris silenced the doubts and mentally attached his body and will to Ken’s voice.


Far below, Mike and Gordon gazed at the distant figure, a red-and-black wet suit outlined against gray clouds and gray steel. They saw him release his hold on the trestle, the first time he’d let go with both hands.

He’s actually going to do it, Mike thought.


The figure leaped. In a flash of red, he arched up, out, and down, plummeting toward the river.


Chris had never been able to pass up a good dare. He was always the kid who’d eat anything, no matter how long it had been sitting on the floor. He had already jumped from other bridges, wowing his youth group.

Now a junior premed student at Walla Walla University in Washington, he still grabbed every challenge he could. He and his good friends Gordon and Mike lived for adventure.

In early May 1994 Gordon and some other students had tried jumping into the Snake River from the towering cliffs at Lyons Ferry, about an hour from Walla Walla. That day Gordon spotted the giant Joso High Bridge nearby.

That night he told Chris about it. “Fifty bucks says you won’t jump off,” he dared. No one would try it, Gordon thought. Not even Chris.

But the bet was on. Two weeks later, on May 18, a group of Walla Walla students assembled at Lyons Ferry State Park. Most were enjoying a barbecue, tossing Frisbees, or relaxing on blankets.

Chris, however, had a purpose. Tugging on his wet suit and an old pair of shoes, Chris strode to a 30-foot cliff and leaped into the river. Man, that water’s cold! he gasped to himself. The water, chilled by melting snow runoff from the mountains, hovered just above 40 degrees. Next he jumped off a 90-foot cliff.

“Wow, he’s crazy,” Mike mumbled, shaking his head.

Chris climbed from the water and headed for the big bridge, followed by a dozen curious students. It was about 4 p.m.  Already Gordon regretted the bet.

“Listen, Chris, that’s enough,” he protested. Not listening, Chris asked, “How high do you think it is?”

“I’d say 200 feet, maybe more,” Gordon replied.

Chris, Gordon, Mike, and Ken walked nearly a quarter mile out on the bridge until they were well over the river. Dropping stones into the water, they counted the seconds and argued about physics formulas.

“A hundred, 120 feet, max,” Chris declared. Frustrated by their stubborn friend, the guys shrugged. Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal.

Mike, a certified lifeguard, began to climb down a maintenance ladder to a concrete foundation pier beneath the bridge. Gordon followed him.

“Just in case,” they told Chris. “We’ll be close enough to dive in after you.”

When they reached the pier, Mike said to Gordon, “OK, I’ll jump into the water, and if anything happens, I want you to point to where Chris went down so I can start diving for him.”

Gordon nodded. They wanted to think of the worst-case scenario. But he won’t really jump, they both thought.

Someone in a nearby house looked out their window and saw Chris inching his way across the trestle to an open spot above the water.

Fearing a suicide, they called 911.

Ten minutes later Ken began his final countdown. The last thing Chris remembered was jumping into the wind and hoping that he wouldn’t get blown back against the steel supports.

As soon as he saw Chris jump, Mike dived, hitting the frigid water before Chris even landed.

Ken snapped three pictures during the 3.25 seconds that Chris plunged through the air. Gaping in horror, the person in the house began dialing 911 again. Gordon shuddered and watched as Chris’s body slammed into the water.


As Mike stroked through the water, the sound of that unforgettable bang shook his body. Never, not even while shooting guns or being in a car accident, had he heard a noise so loud. A dark hole formed where Chris had landed.

Diving into the hole quickly, Mike barely missed a two-foot wave coming from the site of impact. When he surfaced, he saw no one.


At last Chris popped to the surface, buoyed by the padding in his wet suit. But his body lay facedown in the fetal position.

Rolling him over, Mike saw that he was shaking. Maybe he’s faking. Maybe he just got the wind knocked out of him, Mike thought.

“Chris, are you OK? Are you all right?” Mike shouted. “Talk to me!”

Then, for the first time, he noticed Chris’s eyes. They were completely rolled back into his head. Oh, no, Mike moaned.

“Help!” he yelled as loud as he could. Cradling Chris in his arms, Mike turned toward the shore 200 yards away. From the nearby pier,

Gordon dived in and swam to help Mike.

“Just keep his face out of the water so he can breathe,” Mike instructed. “Keep his neck and back straight. I’ll do the rest.”

“OK, let’s go,” Gordon agreed. Mike grabbed Chris’s wet suit and started to pull. Already the guys felt fatigued by the cold water. And after a few yards Chris stopped convulsing and lay completely still.

“Chris!” Mike yelled. “Come on, fight. You’ve got to stay alive. Don’t die on us!”

Gordon joined in, begging for Chris to fight. At last Chris coughed and began to shake again.

A foamy pink bile mixed with vomit ran from his mouth onto Gordon’s hand, but at least they knew he was alive. Relieved, Mike started swimming. The severe cold drained his energy.

Again Chris stopped moving, and again they shouted until he started shaking. Mike’s strength was waning fast. Halfway to shore he gasped for air and stopped. He’d never swum so far in such cold under life-and-death circumstances. There’s no way we’re going to make it, he thought.

“Listen, Gordon, I can’t go on,” he said. “Hold Chris up for a while. I have to rest.”

Ten seconds later Gordon too became exhausted from supporting the unconscious body.

“Mike, I’m dying. You’ve got to keep pulling, or we’ll sink,” he said between breaths. Mike shook his head, but Gordon insisted, “You’ve gotta keep going. You’ve gotta.”

Chris’s body still shook, and fluids continued to pour from his mouth. Weakly, Mike grabbed the wet suit and began to swim through the river current. Inwardly he resolved, Either Chris is going to make it back alive, or I’ll die trying.

Gordon too made himself a promise. If Chris goes down, so do I, he decided. He never wouldhave been up there in the first place if it hadn’t been for me. I won’t leave him.

Fighting the pain and numb limbs, they threwtheir last energy reserves into a final effort. Several minutes later all three young men reached the rocky shore, where emergency personnel were waiting.

A blanket was drawn under Chris’s body to hold him out of the water until a fishing boat with a backboard arrived. He couldn’t be carried up the steep riverbank, so the EMTs loaded him onto the boat and took him to a marina across the river.

Chris had become partly conscious, but the fight for his life wasn’t over. Shivering as they huddled in the boat, Mike and Gordon reminded their friend of all the things they loved to do together.

“Hey, buddy, we’re going to play football again next year, and I’ll block for you, and you’ll run like you always do,” Mike promised. He swallowed hard, trying to believe the words himself.

Chris spoke. “Let me up. I’ll walk it off. I’m fine,” he babbled. “Get off my chest.”

By the time the boat reached the marina, they knew that a helicopter was coming from Spokane. Ken had located Chris’s medical insurance card and called his parents in Seattle. Still shivering, Mike lay down on the black asphalt, trying to absorb its warmth. Both he and Gordon had turned blue from the frigid water.

Medical personnel kept the students back, but then Chris asked for Gordon. Gordon remained with his friend through the long wait and flew with him in the helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Walla Walla. He listened in horror to the EMTs as they worked. “He must have ruptured his spleen,” one said. “He probably has just a few minutes to live.”

A crowd of college students packed a hospital waiting room, praying and talking quietly for the next seven hours. Not until midnight were small groups of visitors allowed in to see Chris.

When Mike and Gordon entered, they saw a tangle of tubes and cords. Chris’s hair was matted and his face pale. He looks like he’s been hit by a train, Mike thought.

But then Chris smiled, tried to rip out his oxygen tube, and cracked a joke. The tension eased.

Soon Gordon and Mike were joking back with Chris.

“Oh, don’t make me laugh,” he said, touching his side. “Don’t make me laugh.”

Chris’s doctors said that he had a fractured left rib, a partially collapsed lung, one crushed vertebra, two fractured vertebrae, and a severe concussion. 


After six weeks in a back brace, Chris returned to normal activity, even playing football. But he is about two and a half inches shorter in height. Months later two intramural football teams met on a field at Walla Walla University. The quarterback launched a pass toward a wiry, dark-haired young man, who leaped toward the flying ball. But the pass fell wide, bouncing on the ground.

“Good try, Chris,” Gordon called. “You know, I bet you would have had it if you’d been about two inches taller.”

Chris laughed and jogged back to the scrimmage line. But as he looked over at Gordon, he again felt overwhelming gratitude.

Chris says that if Mike and Gordon hadn’t reached him as he surfaced the first time, he wouldn’t have had a second chance. “I owe them my life, and I don’t forget it. I thank them every time I see them.”

Often Mike and Gordon protest, “Chris, leave it alone. You would have done the same for us.”

And neither friend takes credit for Chris’s life.

“There were a lot of miracles,” says Gordon. “I mean, the fact that he wasn’t paralyzed, that he lived, that people had already called 911, that we didn’t get hypothermia.”

“And he could have landed on me, since I was in the water first,” Mike adds. “A lot of things could have gone wrong, but didn’t.”

But Chris will never stop thanking his friends. He’ll always remember becoming fully conscious again and finding Gordon beside him, comforting him during the eight minutes of the helicopter flight. And he’ll remember the time he later asked Mike why he didn’t leave him in the water and save himself.

“Chris, if you had gone down, we would have gone with you,” Mike replied.

Chris says he feels a bond with Mike and Gordon that he’ll never have with anyone else.

And the incident has changed his view of salvation.

“In the Bible we also have a Savior who’s given His life for us,” Chris explains. “As I take this story from my life and parallel it with what Christ did for us, I think you see there’s a lot of emotion there for me.”

Just as Chris lives in gratitude to Gordon and Mike, he now feels even more strongly his gratitude for God’s sacrifice. He says, “How many people in your life actually give everything for you? You know, I owe something to Christ that I don’t think I can ever repay.”


This story originally appeared in the September 7, 1996, issue of Insight. At that time Becky Lane Scoggins was an editorial intern for Insight, Guide, and Women of Spirit magazines at the Review and Herald Publishing Association.After graduating from Union College with a B.A. in journalism, she earned a master’s degree in writing at Johns Hopkins University. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Maryland, where she works as a freelance writer and editor while homeschooling their two boys.






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