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1 killed, 1 injured in separate N.C. climbing accidents

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

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Authorities hope to have the identity of a climber killed at Crowders Mountain State Park on Monday by early Tuesday afternoon.

A park official said the victim is believed to be a local resident but are awaiting positive identification from family members before releasing his name.

He was pronounced dead near the mountain’s backside trail after first responders hiked several miles up the mountain to rescue him.

Meanwhile, a 23-year-old climber at Linville Gorge in western Burke County had serious injuries after a dramatic helicopter rescue captured by TV news cameras, but the victim is expected to survive, authorities said. That hiker was recovering at an Asheville hospital early Tuesday, authorities said.

Authorities haven’t released the identities of either climber.

Around 6:30 p.m., a caller to 911 said someone fell while rappelling near the Backside Trail at Crowders Mountain, the shortest and steepest route to the top. The caller told dispatchers the climber was bleeding and dangling from a rope unconscious about halfway from the top of a cliff.

Chris Stowe, a spokesman for the Gastonia Fire Department, said crews had to use a rope-and-pulley system to lower the injured climber, who had fallen about 70 feet. First responders managed to get the climber on the ground, and paramedics attempted CPR, but the man was pronounced dead on the mountain.

The climber was the second person to die on Crowders Mountain in as many months.

Gary Mims, an ardent advocate of trails in Gaston County, was found dead on a rainy Saturday in January in the park, at the bottom of a 70-foot outcrop called David’s Castle. His backpack and a garbage bag were found at the top. Authorities believe he was collecting garbage at the park.

Mims led the Gaston County steering committee of the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15-county trails network.

Earlier Monday afternoon, a climber at Linville Gorge fell off Shortoff Mountain while rappelling around 1 p.m., said Beverly Roland, a supervisor at the Burke County Communications Center.

Shortoff Mountain, in the southern portion of Linville Gorge, is a steep and rocky trail that’s about 5 miles long and offers sweeping views of Lake James. The mountain’s rock face is popular with climbers.

Burke emergency officials initially got a 911 call from people on a nearby mountain who saw the man fall, Roland said. Shortly afterward, the man who was holding the rope for the fallen climber called and said his companion had fallen and was injured.

Roland said the climber fell 20 to 40 feet and complained of pelvic pain. He was lying on his right side when rescuers with the N.C. Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team – a team which included two members of the Charlotte Fire Department – were lowered from a Black Hawk helicopter.

But he was alive and talking as they attended to him on the side of the cliff and strapped him into a rescue stretcher.

Around 5:40 p.m., the climber, then his rescuers, were lifted into a waiting Black Hawk helicopter, a scene captured by news helicopters hovering nearby. The man was transferred to a waiting helicopter from Carolinas Medical Center and was taken to a hospital in Asheville, authorities said.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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