The incident made news headlines around the world. A Latter-day Saint missionary had fallen off a 230-foot (70-m) cliff in Australia—and lived! That’s like falling from the top of a 23-story building.
Sometimes a miracle can be told in a single sentence. But for Elder Matthew Weirich—the missionary who fell—every detail of his story testifies to him that the Lord has a plan for his life that he has not yet completed.
Elder Weirich, from Fredricksburg, Texas, had just three months left of his missionary service in the Australia Sydney South Mission. On a preparation day in June 2004, Elder Weirich and three other missionaries got permission to visit a local park to see some of the animals unique to Australia. On the way back from the park they saw a sign pointing to the Grand Canyon lookout. It was close by, so they decided to stop and see what the Grand Canyon looked like in Australia. It is at this point that Elder Weirich’s memory of the day ends. Days later, in the hospital, he had to ask his companions what happened next.
The group had walked to the lookout and then followed marked paths below the lookout to some caves. The path had some crude rock steps back up to the lookout, and one of the missionaries lost a shoe that had been loosely tied. The shoe rolled partway down an incline. From his position Elder Weirich could see that the shoe was caught in a bush just a few steps from the path. It seemed easy to retrieve, and he offered to get it. His companions said that Elder Weirich called out that he had the shoe. Then they heard the noise of sliding rocks. Since they couldn’t see Elder Weirich, they didn’t know what had happened. But when he no longer answered their calls, they were afraid he had fallen.
The three missionaries looked as far over the cliff edges as they dared, then prayed and went looking for a cell phone to call the police. They heard a car door slam in the parking lot and ran to ask the man who had just arrived if he had a phone they could borrow. He did, and they called 000, the emergency number.
An hour later a rescue squad arrived just as darkness was falling. It was turning cold, and the heat-seeking helicopter flying overhead could find no sign of Elder Weirich. Everyone was afraid there was no longer a survivor to rescue.
But they were wrong.
At dawn the next day searchers made their way to the bottom of the cliff. They found Elder Weirich, alive but semiconscious. They carefully loaded him into a stretcher and flew him out by helicopter. He was taken to the hospital, where the medical staff expected to work on someone with many broken bones and other serious injuries. It turned out Elder Weirich had some swelling in his brain, but the only broken bones were his nose and two small fractures above his eye, all of which were left alone to heal.
Looking back, Matt lists the miracles that helped him survive.
Before his mission, Matt had been a pole-vaulter. In fact, he was a national champion in high school and was planning on going to college on a track scholarship. Perhaps—although Matt can’t remember exactly what he did while falling—his training took over and helped him adjust as he fell so he landed in a way that reduced his injuries.
At the top part of the cliff he hit several ledges that slowed him down, evidenced by the scrapes and cuts on his arms, before he took the final 90-foot (27-m) free fall.
The weather had been below freezing every night. But on the night he spent at the bottom of the cliff, the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than usual and did not dip below freezing.
He crawled a few feet after he landed, his head ending up downhill, which may have helped maintain good circulation to his injuries.
He was rescued by experts and given excellent medical care.
His survival story created great interest throughout Australia. Suddenly people everywhere wanted to talk to missionaries. Doors were opened. Many people wondered why this apparent miracle had happened and were asking searching questions about God and the Church this missionary represented.
Matt found other blessings from this experience. He says, “This whole event has brought me closer to my family and has helped me understand the value of life. It is more than just living day-to-day or thinking that you’ll be able to make up for mistakes later.
“I have stopped asking why. I’m now asking, ‘What can I learn from this?’ All I know is that I was an instrument in the Lord’s hands. I have seen some of the effects on other people. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lord has things for me to accomplish. When temptations come my way, I realize that I wasn’t saved to fall into sin. I have to remember that the Lord has a plan for us all.”
Matt Weirich has returned from his mission. He has recovered and is a pole-vaulter on the track team at Brigham Young University, where he continues his studies.