Walla Walla man dies after dive into river

Joshua R. Zahl died after a dive Wednesday evening, officials said.

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TOUCHET -- A 24-year-old man died Wednesday after cliff-diving into the Walla Walla River, authorities said.

The victim was identified by the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office as Walla Walla resident Joshua R. Zahl. Zahl and friends were apparently at an area known as the Touchet cliffs near Byrnes Road in Touchet, north of Highway 12 near 9 Mile Canyon Road.

Friends called 911 about 7:17 p.m. reporting Zahl had jumped into the water off a cliff and had not come back up to the surface.

Witnesses told emergency responders Zahl apparently did a front flip off the cliff and hit the water flat on his stomach and face. It did not appear Zahl hit the cliffs on his way down.

"It wasn't like he hit anything," said sheriff's Sgt. Tom Cooper. "It was the way he landed in the water."

Another witness told a sheriff's deputy on scene that Zahl surfaced right after the dive, took one breath and went down again.

In the moments after the dive, friends thought maybe Zahl was fooling around in the water, Cooper said. But when it soon appeared something could be wrong, friends jumped in the water. Although at least one made contact with him, they were unable to get him to shore.

By that time, emergency crews had arrived. The Sheriff's Office, Medic One, Medstar, and Walla Walla Fire District 6 were among the agencies assisting with the call.

Zahl was finally found and brought to shore by emergency crews close to 7:43 p.m., about a half-hour after the initial report of the dive, according to the report. Many of the people at the scene jumped in to help crews get him up the cliff face.

Paramedics worked to revive Zahl on scene, but he was pronounced dead at 8:11 p.m. The sheriff's report noted Zahl may have consumed at least six or seven beers, according to witness accounts. The deputy took photographs of several alcoholic beverage containers at the site.

The cliff Zahl jumped from is about 26 feet above the water, and has a pool of water about 14 feet deep at its base. Witnesses say Zahl landed about 20 feet out into the river.

"That's like three basketball hoops of a jump," Cooper said about the vertical slope. "You're jumping from twice as high as the depth of the water."

Zahl's body was taken to Providence St. Mary Medical Center, where county Coroner Frank Brown, who was also dispatched to the cliffs, was to make death notifications.

In an earlier incident at the cliffs, Nicholas Ramirez, 23, hurt his ribs and may have broken both wrists after diving into the water from one of the cliffs with his arms extended, authorities said.

That call came in about 3:48 p.m. Wednesday. Ramirez was taken to Walla Walla General Hospital by Walla Walla County Fire District 6.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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