Deputy: Girl who survived rock slide that killed 5 family members says dad used his body to save her

Gracie Johnson, 13, airlifted to Aurora hospital

CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. - A Chaffee County deputy says a 13-year-old girl who is the lone survivor of a deadly rock slide told him her father shielded her with his body as the rocks roared down.

The massive rock slide, said to be several football fields long, rumbled down on a group of about six family members hiking at Agnes Vaille Falls around 11 a.m. Monday, the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office said.

The teen, identified as Gracie Johnson, was rescued and flown to Children's Hospital in Aurora.

"I heard a scream next to me -- I saw a hand sticking out underneath the boulder," Deputy Nick Tolsma told Good Morning America.

Tolmsa said he rushed to remove rock and boulders and pulled out the teen out.

"She said that her dad jumped on top of her to protect her at the last moment when the rocks were coming down, and I really think that he saved her life," Tolmsa said. The hospital did not release Gracie's condition on Monday night, citing a family request for privacy.

The five people killed in the slide have not been officially identified, but Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze told 7NEWS they were all related. First-responders couldn't recover the bodies Monday evening because rocks were continuing to fall as the light faded.

Community members holding an emotional vigil at Buena Vista High School Monday night told 7NEWS that Gracie was hiking with her family. They say a high school football coach, his wife, older daughter and other family members are missing.

The coroner came to the slide Monday evening and confirmed the five deaths.

Spezze said the huge slide was stunning. One huge boulder was 10-feet-high and 8-feet-wide and estimated to weigh more than 100 tons.

Spezze said he believes authorities will be able to recover the bodies on Tuesday. They plan to start the recovery effort in mid-morning after the overnight freeze-thaw cycle on the mountain is over, reducing the danger of rockfall, Spezze said.

"We've got a job to do. We need to do it," Spezze said.

Nobody reporting anything out of the ordinary before the slide, Spezze said.

"The way it was described to us was there was a large cliff rock face above the falls and…it looks like that cliff face came lose and slid through the falls area," the undersheriff said. "From what I'm told, the rocks slid into the falls area and slid into that viewing area where the falls are."

"Since July, we’ve had a lot of rain and snow here, too. There’s been a lot of moisture in the ground and it’s probably made the ground unstable," Spezze said.

The recovery team is being assisted by two engineers and a geologist from the Climax mine near Leadville, Spezze said.

Agnes Vaille Falls is a popular hike for families, because the hike is just a half mile each way. However, to see the waterfall up close, visitors have to scramble over a series of rocks and large boulders.

Agnes Vaille Falls is below Mount Princeton. The trailhead for the fall is 8.8 miles from Highway 285.

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