Off-duty Phoenix firefighter Gary Johnstone was killed and two teenage boys were hurt after falling from a popular rappelling site Friday morning at Camelback Mountain.
(See below for update and details about the second victim who succumbed to his injuries Friday night.)
Johnstone, 50, had been with the fire department for about 15 years, and worked with the close-knit technical rescue team, says spokesman Mark Vanacore. He was also an honor guard member, in which he played the bagpipes.
One of the teens remains in critical condition as of Friday afternoon.
Three Camelback visitors have died this year, and this is the second incident related to Echo Canyon Trail, access to much of which was closed off (including access to the Sugar Cube) for most of last year due to renovations. The trail was reopened January 15. On June 3, the body of Eric Fernandes, a 23-year-old from Seattle, was found in an off-trail area by hikers after a three-day search. Officials haven't yet released the cause and manner of his death.
Friday morning's rescue "was especially difficult for our crews," Vanacore said. "The technical rescue team trains together, knows each other very well... Everything was done to try to save Gary's life."
He didn't know if the teens were related to Johnstone. Nor did he have details about the accident, which occurred at about 7 a.m., saying it was now under police investigation.
It appears they all fell from the top of the Sugar Cube, a block of rock about 30-40 feet high near the beginning of Echo Canyon Trail. We're pretty sure it's the same formation that was the site of an accident in 2007. We often notice people practicing their rappel techniques there, and it's believed the group may have been rappelling. Vanacore wasn't able to say precisely what they were doing. For sure, it's unusual to have three people fall at once from any rock — catastrophic anchor failure, possibly, perhaps due to Camelback's notoriously crumbly rock.
UPDATE: On Saturday morning, Phoenix police said that a second victim has died. According to the release sent to the news media by Sergeant Steve Martos: "15 year old Trevor Crouse was transported to Phoenix Children's hospital in extremely critical condition. Trevor was in a battle for his life for most of the day however, he too did not survive his injuries and was pronounced deceased early yesterday evening."
The third victim "was taken to a third area hospital and was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
"Homicide detectives responded to the scene shortly after the incident. They remained on scene collecting information throughout most of the day. Detectives have not yet definitively determined how this event occurred however have ruled out foul play. The three victims were said to be (rappelling) at the time of this incident. The investigation continues."
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