Ella Nelson


By Beth Lawrence

A local teenager’s good deed might have saved a life last month in Bryson City.

Fourteen-year-old Ella Nelson, of Whittier, was tubing Deep Creek with her brother Hayden, Patricia Jordan and her two grandchildren when they happened upon a woman in trouble.

The kids entered the water above Tom Branch Falls and were drifting downriver when Ella heard the others say they saw an older woman go under a downed tree. She spotted the woman, whose head was lolling in the water.

“I was worried, so I told Katelyn to take my tube so I could go upstream to see if she was alright,” Nelson said. “(The woman) wasn’t really making any sense. She said that she had hit her head.”

The teen grabbed the woman’s tube and pulled her to the opposite bank to the trail.

Ella struggled against the current and slippery rocks to get the woman to safety and to help the woman out of the tube and up the embankment.

“I was sliding around, and a couple of times I had to get on my butt and push her,” Nelson said. “I ended up dragging her into the shallows and had to sit there for another 10 or 15 minutes trying to help her up because she said she was still dizzy. She couldn’t get up because of her hip. She had to get on her knees.”

Eventually, another woman helped the teen pull the woman up the embankment. 

The woman refused offers to call 911 and left with her husband who had also encountered trouble in the water.

“I just think it’s significant that a teenager saved a woman’s life. I’m still amazed by this teen’s quick and decisive actions. I’m proud to call Ella and Hayden my ‘adopted’ grandkids,’” Jordan said.

Nelson is the daughter of Heather and Russell Penninger. She is an honor grad from Scotts Creek Elementary School and will attend Smoky Mountain High in the fall.