CLOVERDALE (KPIX 5) — A Bay Area woman is recovering from what she describes as a harrowing near death escape while zip lining in Mexico.

Heather Gladden says she is lucky to be alive. The mother of four was on a zip line excursion when the line she was riding on malfunctioned, sending her on a 500 foot free fall in down into a tree covered gorge in Puerto Vallarta’s Nogalito Eco Park.

Remarkably Gladden says she suffered no broken bones.

“I have bruising throughout my leg with nasty cable burns,” explained Gladden. “And a possible torn ACL.”

But the fall turned what was intended to be a relaxing vacation into a nightmare Gladden says she will never forget.

Gladden and her husband Ryan were on cruise, when the couple booked a day excursion zip lining trip.

Gladden told KPIX5 it was the 5th line run of the day. She estimates she made it about half way across the run when she began to feel herself falling.

“Next thing I could hear the trees rustling through my ears and the noise of the tree branches,” said Gladden. “And then just a hard yank and then when I opened up my eyes I was upside down in the tree.”

Gladden’s husband Ryan told KPIX5 he was ahead of his wife on the next zip line platform, when he realized something was not right.

“All I saw was the wire literally go right through my legs, hit the ground and then went over the cliff,” said Ryan Gladden. “And I told the guy what just happened and he was just like I don’t know. This has never happened before.”

Ryan Gladden rushed down a cliff into the gorge searching for his wife, guided by the sound of her screams. He found Heather dangling upside down, tangled in the branches of the tree that broke her fall. After about 30 minutes Heather was rescued by her husband, along with zip line company employees and fellow travelers, Monica and John Lee of Hayward, California.

The Lee’s say they witnessed Heather’s 500 foot fall.

“We heard the line snap. It was traumatic. It was unbelievable, couldn’t believe what had happened,” they said. “And then you just hear her yelling, you know, just screaming.”

Prior to the airing of the Gladden’s story, KPIX5 attempted to contact the Nogalito Zip Line Company by phone and email but did not receive a response. However a manager from the company reportedly told the Press Democrat that “the cable on the zip line did not detach or break at the end but only dropped when a cable support mechanism failed.” The manager also reportedly stated that “she believed it was a slow drop.”

Bill Weaver, a spokesperson with the ACCT, a nationwide agency that sets safety standards for challenge courses, and zip lines, says that consumers should follow some basic advice. Read all the terms of any waivers before signing. Pay attention to weight, height and medical requirements and restrictions. Ask if the company has passed a safety inspection by a certified inspector. Also, ask if there is a secondary braking system on the zip line before taking any rides. Finally, make sure the zip line guides wait for the arrival of the previous rider before sending the next rider out.

Heather Gladden and her husband Ryan say they are still in disbelief over what happened, but are grateful that Heather survived.

“The mental nightmares are horrible,” said Heather Gladden. “It replays over and over and over.”

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