The man killed on Wednesday when part of the El Capitan granite monolith in California’s Yosemite National Park collapsed onto a hiking trial was a British climber whose wife was badly hurt in the incident, a park spokesman said.
The couple was found by a search and rescue team at the base of El Capitan after some 1,300 tons of rock broke off from the monumental granite formation and plunged onto a popular hiking trail, Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said in a written statement on Thursday.
‘The victims, a couple visiting from Great Britain, were in the park to rock climb but were not climbing at the time of the initial rock fall,’ Gediman said.
‘The male was found deceased and the female was flown out of the park with serious injuries.’
The couple was not identified while the US National Park Service worked with the British consulate to notify family members, but the man is from Wales.
Gediman said two other people were initially believed missing but were later accounted for by search and rescue teams.
Terrifying: Climber Ryan Sheridan posted this image of the moment hundreds of tons of rock hurtled past him while he was 2,000ft up El Capitan in Yosemite and killed one person below. The fatality was a British man who identity has yet to be released. His wife who was with him was badly hurt in the incident, according to a park spokesperson
Wednesday’s incident actually comprised seven rock falls, Gediman said, involving a sheet of granite estimated at 130 feet tall, 65 feet wide and three to 10 feet thick about 650 feet up El Capitan.
Gediman said the slide was not an unusual occurrence in Yosemite, which sees about 80 rock falls a year, but most do not cause injuries or deaths.
‘With all the craziness I don’t exactly know where they were going but chances are they were going up,’ Gediman said.
‘From what I understand they were buried under rock… They were crushed by falling rocks.’
He could not be specific about their injuries but said they were ‘consistent with tonnes of granite falling on you’.
Sixteen people have been killed and 100 others injured in rock falls since park records began in 1857.
The last fatality was in June 1999, when climber Peter Terbush was killed below Glacier Point.
El Capitan, one of Yosemite’s best-known landmarks, is considered a world-class challenge for rock climbers.
Site of tragedy: The huge crater where the massive block broke lose and fell 2,000ft to the valley floor can be seen in the center of this image
The horrific rock fall was witnessed by another climber who captured the incident on camera.
The climber watched an apartment-sized block of rock break free from El Capitan and hurtle thousands of feet to the valley below killing one person.
Ryan Sheridan took the image on Wednesday as the huge 100ft x 100ft block of granite disintegrated into an avalanche of boulders as it fell to the ground from 2,000ft up.
One person is dead after the rock – weighing hundreds of tons – fell onto them as they walked to the foot of the 3,000ft-high face to begin climbing.
At least one other person was injured and survivors were seen miraculously clambering out of the debris field and being rescued after the tragedy.
Massive scale: This image taken in 2010 shows climbers (arrows) dwarfed at the site of a smaller rock fall (circled) in Yosemite
WHAT CAUSES ROCK FALL IN YOSEMITE?
Rock fall in Yosemite is impossible to predict and is caused by geological processes that fracture the granite faces of the valley over thousands of years.
Erosion caused by freeze-thaw cycles, waterfalls and the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates gradually creates fractures in the rock.
Rock fall occurs when these fractures completely separate a block or blocks from the face .
The large piles of boulders knows as talus at the foot of every face in Yosemite are created by rock fall.
Around 1,000 large rockfalls have been recorded in Yosemite over the past 150 years.
Large rock fall happens a few times a year at Yosemite but there is no way to predict when or where it will occur. Thousands of stunned tourists witnessed the tragedy at 1.55pm but none were hurt.
As he posted the image to Facebook, professional climber Sheridan wrote: ‘We are alright, hoping for a good outcome for the people approaching east buttress’
Around 30 climbers were on El Capitan at the time of the rockfall on the Waterfall Route but they appear to be unharmed.
Another witness who saw the slide from above said he saw the rockfall hit two climbers as they walked to the bottom of the face which is one of the most famous symbols of America’s national parks.
Peter Zabrok said he saw the two climbers walking below the rock fall and one of them get hit and buried. When his companion tired to run to his aid he was also hit by more rocks plummeting down the face.
Zabrok, who spoke to DailyMail.com on Wednesday night as he made his way back to base, narrowly avoided death.
He had just climbed above the piece of the rock which tore off when he watched from a ‘birds eye view’ as it fell away.
He said: ‘We were climbing the route where the rockfall occurred and we got a bird’s-eye view of the rockfall.
Another onlooker across the valley captured this image of the rock fall from across the valley on Wednesday
Aftermath: This was survivor Peter Zabrok’s view after the rockfall. The huge debris field of boulders can be seen bottom right
‘I observed a 100 foot by 100 foot by 100 foot piece of granite peel off and fall 2000 feet to the ground. It was the size of an apartment building’ he said.
Zabrok – seasoned rock climber with decades of experience – said the sound of the fall was like ‘a thousand freight trains derailing at once but louder’.
‘There were two people walking at the base and the appeared to get hit and completely buried.
‘We are past it and we are safe. Had we been underneath it we would have died for sure. I give thanks to God and my Savior Jesus Christ,’ he said.
Writing later on a climbing forum, Zabrok said: ‘A guy in a green shirt ran over from the Zodiac area and probably went up into the rock fall to search for the people who were buried.
‘Ryan shouted continually from the portaledge to stay away because more rock was going to come down.
‘We think that the guy in the green shirt is the one who perished and was carried away by the rescue crew.
‘But this is only a guess based on what we saw. It is a true blue big wall miracle that orange helmet girl survived not one rock fall but too. She must have some sort of hedge of protection around her.’
Survivor: A woman is lifted in to an air ambulance after being rescued from the mountain. One witness saw two climbers being buried by the avalanche of boulders
The woman was lifted along with her climbing equipment, left, suggesting she may already have been making her way up El Capitan when the rock fall occurred
Climbers die every year in Yosemite and rock fall is just one of the dangers they face. The last climber to be killed by rock fall was Mason Robinson who was hit by a rock an fell 280ft to his death.
One woman in a white helmet was seen being lifted in to an air ambulance shortly after the incident after being rescued from the mountain.
She was flown away for treatment.
Subsequent smaller rockfall also put rescuers in danger as they searched for survivors.
Zabrok added: ‘There have been three subsequent enormous rock falls and this rescuer is in tremendous peril.’
In a statement after the slide Yosemite National Park said: ‘ A rockfall of undetermined size occurred on El Capitan at about 1:55 pm today. The release point appears to be near the ‘Waterfall Route,’ a popular climbing route on the East Buttress of El Capitan.
‘This is the area where Horsetail Fall flows in winter and spring conditions.
‘There is one confirmed fatality and one injured person. Park rangers are working to transport the injured person to receive medical care outside of the park.’
The fall trigger three smaller slides, he said, which left emergency workers in danger.
‘There have been three subsequent enormous rock falls and this rescuer is in tremendous peril,’ he said, immediately after the first one.
Challenging route: The rock rock fall occurred near the popular waterfall route. It follows the path of the Horse Tail Falls waterfall which plunges 3,000ft to the valley in spring
Aftermath: Peter Zabrok watched as a helicopter scrambled to rescue people beneath him who were ‘completely buried’ in the slide
A helicopter carries an emergency worker with one of those rescued on a winch to safety
One woman was seen being lifted in to an air ambulance shortly after the incident after being rescued from the mountain.
She was flown away for treatment.
Zabrok was making his way down the mountain with his climbing partners Ryan Sheridan and Patrick McCredmond when he spoke to DailyMail.com.
The park announced the slide in a Facebook post shortly after it was reported.
‘The release point appears to be near the ‘Waterfall Route,’ a popular climbing route on the East Buttress of El Capitan,’ the post read.
‘This is the area where Horsetail Fall flows in winter and spring conditions. There is one confirmed fatality and one injured person.
‘Park rangers are working to transport the injured person to receive medical care outside of the park,’ it said.
Emergency crews worked at the site for hours after the rock fall on Wednesday
There was a large presence of park rangers and emergency services until late in the afternoon
Spectacular: The Horsetail Falls climbing route follows the path of this waterfall when it is not flowing