The hiker had been following a trail at Angel Falls in Madera County when he “misjudging the swiftness of the water and decided to walk across”, according to a statement by Madera County Sheriff’s Office.
The man, who was not identified by authorities, was then quickly swept off his feet by the current, ABC News reported.
“The flow overwhelmed and swept him into a whirlpool, which held him under,” police said.
The victim was luckily spotted by an off-duty California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer trained in search and rescue who was hiking the trail with his family, according to reports.
The officer, Brent Donley, “utilised his Adidas backpack’s paracord style strap, cut it out and tied it together with a small branch to allow the victim something to grab”, CHP Fresno said.
A video of the incident released by officials shows Mr Donley hanging over the edge of the water while being supported by other bystanders, offering the hiker a makeshift lifeline made of a branch and the rope.
Mr Donley and bystanders eventually manage to pull the man close to the edge of the water and to safety.
“The volume of water that moves every second is enormous,” Mr Donley told ABC News on Sunday. “People don’t realise.”
“All I did was use what I had and stayed calm,” he told The San Fransisco Chronicle.
“I tried to make sure everybody was calm so nobody else got hurt. It was good to help somebody out who was obviously in need. That’s all it was about: making sure he was safe.”
Mr Donley, a 20-year veteran of the force, performed first aid until a search and rescue team and an emergency medical services crew arrived.
The man only sustained minor injuries from the incident, according to police.
“Officer Donley’s quick thinking and training in search and rescue, undoubtedly helped to save the man’s life,” Madera County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Deputy Sarah Jackson, a public information officer with the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, told The Chronicle that the hiker “should buy a lottery ticket” as “yesterday was his lucky day.”
“Every year we respond to calls of people drowning at Angel Falls,” Ms Jackson told the outlet.
“Many times it ends up in fatality. We want to urge people to take caution around the water when it’s so deep and swift like right now with good snow pack in runoff.”
The sheriff’s department warned hikers in the area who were planning to climb the mountains to “not attempt to cross swift water” and to consider safety precautions while hiking.
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