CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - Josh Elliott thought he would freeze to death when he became stranded on a ski lift at Sugar Mountain Resort in the North Carolina mountains in February 2016.
After sitting and freezing for several hours, he finally decided to jump, according to a lawsuit his family filed against the resort. He had no idea if he would survive the 30-foot fall.
Josh, who was 14 at the time, went unconscious when he hit the ground, his family's lawsuit states. When he came to, he thought he might be in heaven, then realized he was on the mountain, with a broken ankle and arm, Josh told Greensboro CBS-TV affiliate WFMY recently after a confidential settlement was reached in the case.
"It's hard to accept that you're probably going … that you think you're going to die, especially at the age of 14, because that's what I thought," Josh said from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn. "I thought I was gonna die and there was nothing I could do about it. So I figured I could jump and maybe die or stay up here and definitely die, so I just took my chances," he told the station.
Josh, now 16, recounted his ordeal after a U.S. District Court judge in Asheville approved a confidential settlement agreement between the popular resort in Avery County and Josh's family. Josh's mother, Wendy Elliott, notified the Observer on Saturday that the settlement had been reached. She said the agreement bars her family from saying how much money the resort agreed to pay them but said it wasn't as substantial as the public might think.
She said her son recently had screws and a plate removed from his foot and is now fine.
The family will receive a lump sum and then future payments, according to court records. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger signed the agreement on Jan. 31.
In a two-sentence statement to the Observer on Tuesday, the resort said the case was settled "to the mutual satisfaction of all parties."
"We are very conscientious about the safety of our guests and our staff," resort President Gunther Jochl told the Observer after the family sued in February 2017. "We take this very seriously. We don't want anything like this to happen."
Josh's family contended that workers at the resort "were dismissive" when Wendy Elliott reported him missing. Instead of immediately launching a rescue effort, staff speculated the youth "probably wandered off the ski slope or trails," according to the lawsuit.
Resort staff failed to check the lift for any riders before shutting it down the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2016, the lawsuit claimed. The family sought at least $75,000 in damages.
After Josh was stuck on the lift for about 2 hours, the sun had set, it was still snowing, wind increased to 5.8 mph and the wind chill dropped to about 6 degrees, the lawsuit said.
Snow-making equipment and high winds drowned out his cries for help, according to the lawsuit.
After several hours, the teen became sleepy, and he was afraid he would fall asleep and ether freeze or fall out of the chair.
He took his snowboard off, crawled over the edge of the chair, grasped a metal bar below the chair, hung from the bar and then let go, falling to the frozen ground below, the lawsuit said.
When he came to, he crawled in pain about 200 yards out of thick woods via a service road to the adjoining Gunter's Way ski run.
He crawled another 300 yards down the ski run to the lighted terrain park area, which had since reopened for night skiing.
"I stopped some snowboarders, and I asked them to go get help," Josh told WFMY. "I was almost crying because I was so thankful that I found some help and I was going to be OK."