COBB COUNTY, Ga. - A Cobb County firefighter spoke out for the first time since saving a teen after a tragic accident that left his brother dead at High Falls State Park in Monroe County on Tuesday.
"That was the most terrifying day of my career, hands down," Rusty Brown said Friday morning.
Brown is being credited with saving the life of 17-year-old James Burdette who clung to a rock in the middle of the rapids for nearly three hours after falling.
Officials said James and his younger brother, 12-year-old Christian, were walking along the rocks above the falls when they were swept away in the fast-moving water, falling 20 to 25 feet down to even more rocks. Christian died during the accident.
Witnesses called 911 around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and firefighters quickly arrived to assess the scene.
James clung to a rock while a specialized unit from Cobb County was brought in to rescue him. Brown waited along the bank, about 50 yards away from the teen, communicating with him mostly through gestures, trying to keep him calm.
"We saw these enormous waterfalls just powering over this kid who looked helpless," Brown recalled. "At one point, I feel like God put me right where I needed to be."
Brown said James was the calmest victim he's ever rescued. Officials said once the teen was brought to safety, all he cared about was his younger brother.
"I feel so bad for the family," Brown said.
James' brother’s body was later pulled from the water. An autopsy is being performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to determine the cause of death.
This is the second fatality at the falls within the last six months, according to officials.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office will be investigating the incident. One of the factors officials will be looking into is if the flow of the falls was more swift than normal due to heavy rains from over the weekend. DNR officials said there are posted signs warning people not to climb on the rocks.
The state park is located about 50 miles south of Atlanta.