Helmet footage shows kayaker rescued from behind waterfall

Aerial view of Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico
(Image credit: Getty)

A kayaker has shared dramatic helmet cam footage after he became trapped behind a waterfall for over an hour. He was eventually rescued by his friends, who used a 'live bait' technique to find and pull him out from behind the curtain.

The group were kayaking on the Agua Azul river in Chiapas, Mexico. The highlight of the route is a group of waterfalls known as the Five Kings, which present kayakers with a real challenge. They vary in both difficulty and height, from 10m to 15m.

One member of the group decided to stay back, while the rest headed out on the water. Curtis May, who shared a video from his helmet camera on his YouTube channel, was last to go. He made it over the first two falls, but unlike the rest, failed to surface after the third. 

As he approached over the fall, May hit a section of rock where the water was only a few inches deep, which slowed him down and meant he lacked the momentum to make it over successfully. Instead, he pitched off the rock and fell straight down.

"As soon as I rolled up, I saw that rock wall in front of me that you saw in the video, and I knew exactly where I was," May told The Weather Channel. "I knew I was behind the curtain."

May and his companions couldn't see or hear one another, and he knew that making an unsuccessful attempt to escape could lead to him being trapped beneath an undercut section of rock. 

After an hour of unsuccessful attempts to reach May, two of his friends decided to attempt a live bait rescue – sending one kayaker behind the waterfall on a tether, in the hope that he would be able to grab May and pull him out.

By this time May was exhausted and starting to lose hope, He was overwhelmed with relief when he finally saw his friend. 

"I retreated back to my point of safety and gathered my strength for a moment to make the ferry around the corner to where Wesley was waiting," he said. "When I reached Wesley he gave three blasts on his whistle and Issac started pulling us both along the undercut wall back to safety. They saved my life on this day and I will forever be grateful."

May said his experience highlights the importance of taking a swiftwater rescue course, and keeping your skills sharp: "Always paddle with rescue gear, always discuss safety with your crew before you put on, and always be prepared to act when the time comes."

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.