CAMDEN, Maine — The woman who was injured Tuesday afternoon after falling an estimated 60 feet while belaying down a cliff at Camden Hills State Park was listed in fair condition Wednesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Maria Millard, 28, of Belfast had been transported by ambulance the previous night from PenBay Medical Center in Rockport for treatment of her injuries, which include several broken bones.
But Bill Bentley, a veteran rock climber who leads the Camden First Aid Technical Rescue Team and responded to the 911 call for help, said that Millard could have been much more seriously injured, considering the magnitude of her fall. Friends said that she did not suffer spine or head injuries in the accident.
“We did an assessment on her injuries” at the scene, he said. “She was calm. A little bit scared, but in good shape.”
According to Bentley, Millard was leading a climb on a route called the Old Stud on a set of rock slabs known as the Barrett Cove Cliff, which overlooks Route 52 in Camden. She had anchored a rope to the top of the rock pitch and prepared to rappel down to the group of climbing friends waiting below when something went wrong.
“There was some type of operator error in setting up the rappel,” he said.
Millard, who was conscious after the accident, said that she didn’t know what had happened, but some people have speculated that she may have attached just one rope and not two to her rappelling rig, as is preferred, Bentley said.
When Millard leaned back to begin rappelling down, she instead fell down the nearly sheer cliff face, hitting the rock ledge at least once, Bentley said.
“She fell through a tree,” he said. “That probably broke the fall enough that she survived it. She landed at the base of the cliff between two boulders, either of which could have done her grave damage. … Incredibly, she had a helmet on, because usually rock climbers don’t wear their helmets. That did her well.”
Millard’s climbing companions saw her fall.
“It happened right in front of them,” he said. “I’m sure it was pretty horrifying.”
When she landed, she landed face down, in a prone position, and may have blacked out for a few seconds, he said.
The climbers she was with used cell phones to call for help, and Bentley and others responded. Six climbers from the technical rescue team also assisted at the scene, as well as some skilled bystanders and her companions. Altogether, 12 climbers worked together to carry Millard down the cliff in a Stokes litter.
“Her rescue wasn’t particularly technical, but being a technical team, it went much smoother than it would otherwise, because we’re at home on rock,” Bentley said.
He said that the Orono native is known locally as a good climber and a good athlete, adding that he has good hopes for her recovery.
“She’s very strong,” he said.