Missionary's Dad Calls Survival of Canyon Fall a Miracle

Missionary's Dad Calls Survival of Canyon Fall a Miracle

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SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The father of an American Mormon missionary who fell 230 feet into a canyon has hailed his survival a miracle.

The family from Fredericksburg, Texas, said they began making funeral arrangements after hearing that Matthew Weirich, 21, was missing Wednesday after a falling from a lookout in Mortan National Park in New South Wales' southern highlands.

Rescuers found the former Brigham Young University athlete semiconscious Thursday after he spent 19 hours in a steep, heavily wooded canyon.

Weirich, a missionary with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, remains in serious, but stable, condition in a drug-induced coma in Wollongong Hospital, south of Sydney, hospital spokesman Grant Simons said Friday.

His parents, Rick and Brenda Weirich, were to arrive in Sydney on Saturday, church spokesman John Millar said.

"It's just a miracle," Rick Weirich told Ten Network television news before boarding a flight for Sydney in Los Angeles. "We just wanted to thank the rescue workers. It's just unbelievable."

It will be a few days before doctors know whether Weirich suffered permanent brain damage or will make a complete recovery, Simons said.

"He has multiple abrasions. I think the only thing that saved him was falling through the tree canopy," Simons told reporters. "Looks like he hit just about every tree on the way to the ground."

Weirich was walking with three other missionaries when he fell into the canyon after climbing over the lookout's safety barrier to retrieve a shoe, ambulance officials said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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