David McGrath, like most tourists, came to Kauai for the sights. He saw Waimea Canyon, the Napali Coast, sea turtles and sunsets.
What he didn’t expect to see was a man jumping from Wailua Falls, and then saving that man’s life.
“It was just a crazy experience,” he said in a phone interview with The Garden Island.
McGrath, his partner Sharene and his daughter Jane had hiked down to the bottom of the falls Friday afternoon. They hiked behind the falls, swam across the water and just hung out on a sunny day. They were the only ones there, which they found surprising. It was peaceful and relaxed.
“Then, these two figures appeared at the top of the falls,” McGrath said. “One seemed to be assessing jumping. I saw his friend hold up his phone.”
McGrath, who is from Bainbridge Island in Washington State, couldn’t believe someone would jump from the top of the falls, an estimated 173-foot drop. In case they did, he picked up his cellphone and turned on the video.
About 35 seconds later, a shirtless young man wearing black shorts with red stripes, leaps. As he falls, his arms are waving and his legs are kicking, then turn still. He plunges feet first into the water below, perhaps 35 feet deep.
He disappears from view and McGrath doesn’t see him until a body floats to the surface.
“Oh, he’s knocked out,” McGrath is heard saying on the video, which ends there.
At that point, McGrath and his daughter swam out to the man, floating facedown, and pulled him to shore. His daughter, a lifeguard, used her skills to stabilize him. They covered him with towels while Sharene ran to the parking lot above to get cellphone reception and call for help.
Without the visitors there, McGrath believes 21-year-old Shiloh Shahan would have died.
“This guy escaped death,” he said.
Shiloh Shahan, back home in California, said in an interview with TGI on Thursday he was visiting relatives on Kauai when a friend took him to Wailua Falls. When he looked at the falls, he knew one thing.
“I automatically wanted to jump. I just did. It just called to me,” he said.
Shahan, who loves challenges and testing his limits, travels often to see new places, meet new people and try new things.
“I’ve done a lot,” he said. “I’ve lived.”
But, he’s not careless. Before throwing himself over a cliff, he quickly did some research with his smartphone and made some calculations in his head.
He learned the jump was reported to be in the range of 85 feet to as much as 173 feet, depending on your source. The water at the bottom was reported to be 33-feet deep.
Pro divers, he said, have jumped from heights of about 190 feet and been OK. He figured, let’s do this. There was no fear, no doubt.
“It just felt right. I just kind of like, it’s a whole leap of faith and starting a new chapter,” he said. “The old chapter was ending.”
And then he jumped.
Watching from below
McGrath said he was surprised when the man suddenly appeared at the top of the falls, looking like he planned to jump, which led McGrath to think, if he does, he should record it.
“Because this is crazy if this guy does it. He did it and I couldn’t believe,” McGrath said.
The noise when he hit the water, “was just incredible,” McGrath added.
Shahan told McGrath he thought he hit the bottom.
“He didn’t come up for a long time,” McGrath said. “Then, all you could see was the top of his back in the water.”
Perhaps ironically, McGrath said during a helicopter tour over the falls, he was told that historically, Native Hawaiians would leap off the falls to prove their bravery.
Others told him that every now and then, people still take that leap of courage.
“I had it in my mind it’s something that happens from time to time,” he said.
While his daughter helped save Shahan’s life, it was still traumatic for her.
“It weighed heavily on her, this guy was so close to dying.” McGrath said. “She got quite upset.”
McGrath said he connected with Shahan via social media and was glad to learn he was OK.
Shahan told McGrath the jump was a leap of faith as he was starting a new chapter of his life with a return to the Mainland, but at the same time, he was somewhat confused. He didn’t know what year it was or how he got there.
“He didn’t make a lot of sense, but he wasn’t all there, either,” McGrath said. “He was concussed.”
Two paramedics hiked down and helped Shahan, who was complaining his spine and chest hurt and he was struggling to breath.
“We turned it over to them,” said McGrath, who also spoke briefly to police when they arrived.
County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said firefighters responded to Wailua Falls regarding a male patient who had apparently jumped from the top of the falls, feet first, into the pond below and became distressed, about 2:15 p.m.
Lihue firefighters hiked down into the area and located the patient standing and being assisted by his friend, she wrote in an email. Medics were also on scene but the patient refused medical treatment and insisted in walking out of the area on this own. No injuries were reported to the rescuers on scene.
Shahan describes himself as spiritual, kind of a free spirit.
“I find things work easiest for me when I have faith everything will be OK,” he said. “I surrender my will, in a way. I was kind of like sacrificing my desires, what I want from life.”
He said he looks at his life and thinks, “This is what I’ve done, this is what I want to do. This is what I’m going to do.”
He spoke, too, of once experiencing what he called a state of eternity
“I saw my entire life. I saw the truth of all my actions. I saw the past, present and future,” he said. “Ever since then, I’ve been OK with whatever happens.”
A video shot by his friend and posted on YouTube shows Shahan at the top of Wailua Falls. He looks relaxed, smiles, and raises his fists to the sky. He takes a few steps back, sets himself, then runs forward and launches himself over the falls. He plummets and disappears into the water with a splash. In the video, you can see McGrath and his daughter start swimming toward a prone body in the water while the friends yells, “Wake up!”
Shahan remembers jumping, flailing and pointing his feet down. He forgot to tuck his arms in, so when he hit the water, the impact twisted his body and neck. He hit the cold water, then lost consciousness, coming to when he was on shore with McGrath. He estimated he lost his memory for about five minutes.
“I didn’t remember who I was, where I was, what happened,” he said.
His memory slowly returned as McGrath reminded him he had jumped from the top of the falls.
“It all came back to me,” Shahan said.
And now that he remembers it all clearly, what does he think?
“It was amazing,” he said without hesitation. “Honestly, I plan on doing it again.”