Nikki fell first. Then Saxon. Then Spencer. And then McKenzie and Marrissa.
One after the other, the five young friends tumbled 75 feet down a cliff in Harrison Hills County Park on Sunday, each one slipping while trying to help the last.
Their efforts to save each other during a hiking trip on the Rachel Carson Trail sent relatives scrambling to find them and ended when rescuers with ropes and stretchers lowered them to safety.
Four of the five 11- and 12-year-olds remained at Children's Hospital last night, where, in a cramped room filled with bright balloons and family members, they recalled their harrowing experience with youthful nonchalance.
McKenzie Himes, 11, said the hikers had picked a circular trail, and the kids briefly split up from their parents, planning to "meet in the middle." The Rachel Carson Trail winds along the spine of the 300-foot-high, heavily wooded ridge paralleling the Allegheny River in Harrison.
McKenzie, in a wheelchair and sporting a neck brace, said the kids spotted a railroad track at the bottom of a cliff and "wanted to explore."
But Nikki Meanor, 11, slipped, McKenzie said, landing "in a ball" at the bottom of the cliff, "face down, with blood all over her hair and face."
"I thought she was unconscious, so I wanted to go down there and make sure she was all right," said Saxon Panchik, 12, who said he suffered a concussion sliding down the cliff head first.
"It still hurts," he said from his hospital bed, an IV snaking from his arm. "I was trying to save my friends. ... I worried more about them than me."
His twin brother, Spencer, tumbled after him, hitting crags that left his cheek scarred and his eye swollen, and tree branches that tore through his leg, straight to the bone.
"I thought I was gonna die," said Spencer, whose right arm is in a blue cast after a skiing accident weeks earlier. He now has a white cast on his left leg.
Watching in horror, McKenzie and Marrissa Szczcypinski, 11, fell next.
"I didn't care about myself then," McKenzie said. "I was just worried about my friends."
At the base of the hillside, the friends, classmates from Highlands Middle School, waited about 45 minutes for rescuers, who had trouble locating them.
Spencer called 911 twice from a cell phone he got for Christmas. McKenzie cradled Saxon's head. She and Marrissa learned about concussions in fifth grade, and knew Saxon had one when he threw up. They also knew to keep their friends awake because, as they learned, sleeping with a concussion can be dangerous.
Marrissa started to cry, but McKenzie kept her cool, telling her, "you have to stop crying right now," and telling Spencer, "you're not going to die."
Meanwhile, relatives and rescuers were clamoring to find them.
"I didn't want to stand and wait," said Lisa Panchik, the mother of the twin boys, who left home with her family to join the search. "I wanted to find my kids, I needed to know they were alive."
"It took us about a half hour to find them," said Harrison Hills Fire Rescue Chief Ed Naughton, who estimated about 50 people from local fire, police and EMS participated in the rescue effort. "The terrain gave us a hard time."