Missionary, Track Athlete Found Alive

Matt Weirich, a member of the 2002 MWC Championship track team, survived a 230-foot fall while serving a mission in Australia. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

PROVO -- Matt Weirich, a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and 2002 member of the BYU track team, was found alive in a deep ravine in Morton National Park outside Sydney, Australia. Weirich, a native of Fredericksburg, Texas, fell nearly 230 feet Wednesday afternoon and had been listed as missing throughout the cold, winter night. Searchers found Weirich Thursday morning, suffering from facial lacerations, a head injury and hypothermia. He was airlifted to a local hospital in critical condition.

"We actually found out he had been found, and was alive, after reading a Sydney newspaper on-line," Chris Weirich, Matt's older brother said. "Shortly after reading that he had been found, we got a call from his mission president. I can't explain how we felt when we found out he was alive."

The family talked with Weirich's physician Thursday evening. According to his brother, Weirich had been upgraded to stable condition and was semi-conscious. Determining the extent of his brain injury could take up to three weeks. Chris, who is also a member of the BYU track team, said his younger brother is doing, "extremely well."

"The doctor told us Matt was under controlled sedation due to his head injury," Chris said. "He will be on a ventilator for about three more days. After that, they will be able to determine the severity of his head injury. Right now, they're saying he has a contusion on his brain and a small skull fracture; otherwise, he has no broken bones, no internal injuries, nothing. The more we talk to the doctor, the more we keep learning of more miracles. Things look promising."

Chris said his parents, Rick and Brenda, were in Los Angeles Thursday evening waiting for a connecting flight to Sydney.

Chris said his family received a phone call from Matt's mission president early Wednesday morning, informing them Elder Weirich was missing.

"I was in El Paso at the time, about seven hours from my parent's home. I drove straight home after I got the news," Chris said. "That was the longest seven hours of my life. I didn't have any of the details, only that he was missing. It was something we were not ready for. However, the more information we received throughout the evening, the more we felt and knew everything was going to be alright."

Reports indicate Weirich fell nearly 25 stories from the top of a canyon wall in the heavily wooded park. Having his fall broken by tree limbs, as well as thick underbrush, Weirich managed to survive freezing temperatures throughout the night. A search party was called off at 7 p.m. Wednesday due to darkness, but resumed 12 hours later. According to his brother, when rescuers found Weirich the next morning, he was semi-conscious, suffering from his injuries as well as hypothermia. He was immediately airlifted to a local hospital.

"We keep hearing reports that he is lucky to be alive," Chris said. "We don't know all the details, and I'm sure we'll find all that out in the next few days, but for now, we're just grateful for miracles."

Weirich has been serving in the Australia Sydney South mission since September, 2002. He is scheduled to return to Provo in August in order to enroll for fall semester at BYU.

Weirich competed for the Cougars as a true freshman, finishing third in the decathlon at the 2002 Mountain West Conference championships. Later that summer, he competed at the U.S. Junior Nationals before entering the Missionary Training Center in September.