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1 killed, 3 hurt in 300-foot fall down cliff in Palos Verdes Estates

CBS speaks with family of one of the survivors of 300-foot fall down Palos Verdes cliff
CBS speaks with family of one of the survivors of 300-foot fall down Palos Verdes cliff 02:51

One person died and three others were injured Monday after falling down a cliff in the Palos Verdes Estates area.

"We still don't know," said Palos Verdes resident Sammy Weiss. "I mean we still could know these people." 

The rescue effort started at about 4:40 a.m. in the area of Paseo Del Mar and Avon Road in Palos Verdes Estates, where fire crews were sent over the side on rope line systems to help four people -- two male and two female -- who were found 300 to 400 feet down the side of a cliff. 

(credit: CBS)

One person suffered minor injuries in the fall but was able to climb up to the top and call for help. Air units were brought in to help find and rescue the other three people. One of those people was airlifted straight to a hospital, while the second was brought to the top of the cliff and loaded into an ambulance. Both are in critical condition.

"Both of them told us there were hanging at the cliff's edge," said Palos Verdes police Capt. Steve Barber. "The female who we did interview stated she slipped. And as she was starting to fall, her friends, all three of them, tried to save her. And in doing so, all four of them went over the cliff."

The fourth person, a man, from Los Angeles, was declared dead at the scene, and his body had to be hoisted up for recovery by the coroner. The victim, Jerardo Huitzil, was 25 years old. 

CBS reporter Rick Montanez spoke with the mother of the man who was able to climb to the top, Vincent Avila. She said they're still waiting to hear if her son will need surgery, and still haven't told him that one of his friends died.

Doctors were conducting a series of tests to determine how severe Avila's injuries are, after deducing that he has a broken rib and internal damage to one of his kidneys. 

"I went to the place of the accident and that's terrible," his mother, Irma, said. "I'm in shock, believe me."

She shared pictures of her son, who also suffered several deep cuts and bruises to his legs and face during his climb back to the top, and further noted how she believes that the group likely fell between 10 and 11 p.m., but help didn't come along until the early morning.

"He thinks it's around one hour. But the police say maybe he was walking around four hours to look for help," she continued.

Avila's mother explained that the four were friends from high school and often went hiking together.

Doctors expect that Vincent and his two friends will recover.

According to a public information officer with the Palos Verdes Police Department, the four people were hanging out there when one of the females got too close to the edge of the cliff and started to slip. The others went to help her and the entire group fell. 

"It's extremely dangerous; there's no fencing in the area," LA County Fire Capt. Wade Kelsey said. 

Neighbors familiar with the dangerous beauty of the cliffs say if the four were visiting, they were likely unaware of where the edge was or the condition of the cliffs. There are also no lights near the cliffs overnight.

"I don't know what the attraction is to getting so close to such a dangerous ... I mean, someone lost their life today," resident Chris Reese said. "You don't need to get that close to enjoy this beautiful scenery here."

"It's really nice here, but these cliffs are really slippery, so it's pretty dangerous," said Tatiana Osoimalo, another neighbor in the area. "You can't see anything. Nothing in the ocean. Everything is really black, you just see the headlights of the cars."

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