(Reuters) - Equipment used by a pair of climbers who fell to their deaths while rappelling from a 12,000-foot (3,660-meter) Wyoming peak is being inspected for flaws, authorities said on Tuesday.
The two climbers, Jonathan MacDonald, 23, and Keith Henderson, 57, fell 300 feet (91 meters) to their deaths on Friday while descending Pingora Peak near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, Fremont County Undersheriff Ryan Lee said.
A nearby climber who saw the accident told investigators that something went wrong and the two men began to plunge. The witness, who was not identified, used a satellite telephone to contact authorities, who in turn dispatched a helicopter and rescue crews to retrieve the bodies, Lee said.
A climbing expert examining the ropes, harnesses and other gear used by MacDonald and Henderson, both of Wyoming, was expected to release preliminary findings on Wednesday, Lee said.
It was the second incident in less than a week in which a pair of mountaineers fell to their deaths while climbing Wyoming’s rugged mountains.
Two women died on Aug. 23 after careening 200 feet (60 meters) down the face of Teewinot Mountain in Grand Teton National Park in the northwestern part of the state. A third member of that climbing party told authorities that her two friends had disappeared and were not responding to her repeated shouts down to them.
Rangers found the bodies of the women, Tyler Strandberg, 27, and Catherine Nix, 28, on a rock ledge 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) up the mountain. The women had not been using ropes for a climb in which they unintentionally veered from a less challenging route to one more difficult and technical in nature, Grand Teton officials said.
There were 143 mountaineering accidents reported in the United States in 2013, resulting in 21 deaths, according to the American Alpine Club (AAC).
Most U.S. climbing accidents take place on rocky terrain, happen during ascents and involve unroped climbing or terrain exceeding climbers’ abilities, AAC data show.
Washington led U.S. states for reported accidents from 1951 to 2012, with 2,002 mishaps and 325 deaths, according to AAC.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Sandra Maler