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Man warns of river dangers after being scalped on sharp rock

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The video in the player above and photos in this story are graphic. Discretion is advised.

IDAHO FALLS — John Delong had no idea what had happened.

He jumped in the river, came out of the water and saw his friend, Devan Johnson, freaking out.

“John, you hit your head! Oh my God, his head is bleeding!” Johnson said in a cell phone video that was recording the incident.

Minutes earlier, Delong, Johnson and another friend had been spending their Sunday afternoon fishing and floating the Snake River in Idaho Falls. When they approached the area below John’s Hole Bridge, Delong got out of his tube and climbed up some rocks.

“I’ve always been the adrenalin enthusiast. I love getting that rush and having fun,” Delong tells EastIdahoNews.com. “When I got up the rocks, I looked at the water and it didn’t look too deep. I thought it should be fine.”

Johnson remembers warning his friend not to jump because he could touch the bottom of the river with his fishing pole.

But the 21-year-old didn’t think twice and dove from the rocks.

“When I jumped off, I caught the edge of a rock. That pulled my whole scalp off,” Delong says. “I thought I just hit the water wrong because I didn’t feel a lot of pain. But then there was one spot where my vision kept going blurry and I found out it was my scalp falling over my eyes. I thought it was hair getting in my eyes and I kept pushing it back.”

A large piece of John Delong’s scalp was cut when he hit a rock in the Snake River. | Courtesy John Delong

Johnson was worried his friend might pass out in the water so he immediately got off his tube and swam over to Delong. He and their buddy helped Delong out of river and yelled to a man walking by for help.

“We saw this guy walking the river with his family. We said to call 911 but realized it would take a while for the ambulance to get there so he got in the truck and we rushed him to EIRMC,” Johnson says.

Blood was gushing from Delong’s head, nose and eyes. When he arrived at the hospital, doctors told he’s lucky he survived.

They put over 30 staples in his head but fortunately, there was no brain bleeding, concussion or serious internal injuries.

Doctors put over 30 stitches in John Delong’s head. | Courtesy John Delong

“I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like to my family if it would have knocked me out and I would have hit one of those undercurrents,” Delong says. “It wasn’t a very good situation but it’s a lot better than it could have been.”

Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Bryan Lovell says the Snake River is deceiving and while it may appear to be clear under the surface of the water, there are often hidden objects.

“The river is treacherous and there are things that make undercuts and undertows,” Lovell says. “Jumping off is kind of like getting into a car and driving down 17th Street wearing a blindfold. You might not hit anything or you might.”

In addition to hidden dangers, the temperature of the water and hypothermia can set it quicker. Lovell says anyone on the river should always wear a life jacket and never dive in headfirst.

Delong says he has learned his lesson and is sharing his story so others don’t make the same mistake he did.

“If there isn’t a sign saying you’re able to jump and you don’t have the right safety gear, don’t do it,” he says. “There should have been a 90% chance that I got knocked out and died. Whatever or whoever is looking out for me blessed me enough to where I could swim out of that alive. I am very, very blessed.”

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