A British man lost his life and his female companion was injured after a massive chunk of stone broke off the face of Yosemite's El Capitan on Wednesday afternoon, according to park officials and a climber who witnessed the rockfall.
The rockfall on the granite monolith that stands over 3,000 feet tall took place just before 2:00 p.m. local time near the Waterfall Route, a popular climbing trail. The mass of stone fell from a height of about 650 feet above the base of the vertical rock formation, and 1,800 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, park officials said Thursday.
The rare accident occurred during peak climbing season in Yosemite.
Peter Zabrok, 58, a climber who was making, ironically, his 58th El Capitan climb on Wednesday, said the huge chunk of rock toppled about 1,000 feet as two or three people appeared to be hiking at the base.
Zabrok spoke about the incident in a Facebook video interview with NBC News from the side of the mountain.
"I've never seen anything like that."He called the rockfall "enormous," and estimated that the piece of falling rock was "the size of an apartment building about 100 feet by 100 feet by 100 feet."
Zabrok stated the most frightening part to him was that he and the two friends he was climbing with had just spent six nights directly under the rockfall.
"So, if we had not climbed as quickly as we did, which is quicker than I usually climb, we'd be dead now."Photos on social media showed dust moving skyward from the site of the disaster. Ranger Scott Gediman said Wednesday that the tragic accident was "witnessed by a lot of people." Park officials said the identities of the victims would be released pending family notification. The male was found deceased and the female was flown out of the park with serious injuries.Yosemite, located in Northern California, is about a four-hour drive from San Francisco.
Rockfalls are common in the Yosemite Valley, with records indicating that 1,000 have occurred over the last 150 years, including at least 58 rockslides and rockfalls in Yosemite National Park last year, according to the park service.
The last fatality from a rockfall there occurred in 1999. There have been a total of 16 fatalities and more than 100 injuries since record keeping began in 1857, park officials said.
"The rockfall from El Capitan was similar in size and extent compared with other rockfalls throughout the park, though it is not typical that there were victims."Officials added that there were an estimated seven rockfalls altogether on Wednesday, which is the equivalent of approximately 1,300 tons. Zabrok said that he also saw one man rush into the main rockfall in an effort to save the victims.
"That guy totally risked his life," he said, adding that he wasn't sure if the man was a first responder or another climber.
Rangers stated Yosemite remained open after Wednesday's tragic rockfall, and other activities throughout the park weren't affected.
[Featured Image by Tom Evans/AP Images]