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Hermit Falls death: Social media driving increase in cliff-jumping incidents

The spot in the Angeles National Forest where 19-year-old college student Kevin La died on Monday afternoon has seen many injuries, owing in part to its growing popularity on social media such as YouTube.

Hermit Falls is well off designated trails at Chantry Flats near Arcadia. Many people visit to jump off of cliffs that rise 50 feet above natural pools. 

“We’ve seen more calls in the past couple of years at Hermit Falls than we have historically over time. To a large extent, we believe it’s due to social media," said Rob Klusman, an operations leader for Sierra Madre Search and Rescue.

“Right now we’re responding to about a hundred search and rescue calls per year," Klusman said. "Hermit Falls represents a fairly substantial portion of the calls that we respond to."

He said the team received 14 calls for people needing help at Hermit Falls in 2012. So far this year, they've already responded to 17 calls.

La, who was a student at Cal State Fullerton, was part of a group of 13 friends who hiked down the canyon. He was the sixth person in his group to jump in, and when he surfaced he was unconscious. People at the scene attempted to give him CPR. 

Members of the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team did as well when they arrived. La was airlifted by helicopter and taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities confirmed his identity on Wednesday afternoon. Friends of La have put up a memorial page for him on Facebook. 

People who are familiar with the area said that many visitors are unfamiliar with the dangers that it poses. 

“That place has hurt a lot of people," said Camron Stone, a construction worker who works on cabins in the canyon.

Stone said social media has played a large role in making the place a popular destination.

"Ever since Facebook and Youtube came out, people started posting videos of jumping down there. And a whole lot of people have been coming in to go do that — what they see on YouTube.” 

Rescue workers echoed the same sentiment. 

Hike at your own risk

Stone said that he saw several people heading to the spot on Monday. Twenty-four hours after La was airlifted out, no one could be seen there. However, the location had several indications that people had been visiting: Garbage floated in some of the pools, and graffiti tagged many of the rock formations. Some of the graffiti encouraged future visitors to jump into the water. 

No official signs were posted, warning people of the dangers associated with jumping into the water. Forest service officials said that's because the location isn't officially designated as a recommended recreation area. To get to it, hikers must traverse a footpath that is precarious at several points. 

"It is not a city park. It is wild land," said Sherry Rollman, public affairs officer for the Angeles National Forest. "We can’t always go out and put up a chain link fence or fence off an area, because it would just be torn down, or people would go out and find some other way to access the areas.” 

Rollman said that the forest service does try to educate people before they head out. It’s done ad campaigns and public service announcements trying to get visitors to realize that they need to take special precautions when visiting.

“There is a certain element of risk involved in going out and enjoying the great outdoors,” she said.