East Buttress of El Capitan with estimated rock fall source drawn in.
Note: This article was updated Thursday morning, Sept. 28.
Rock falls in Yosemite National Park killed a tourist and seriously hurt his female partner around 2 p.m. Wednesday. The rocks fell 650 feet from El Capitan, a granite monolith above Yosemite Valley.
The victims were a couple from Great Britain who came to Yosemite for rock climbing but weren’t climbing at the time.
Seven rocks fell over four hours near Waterfall Route, a “popular” climbing route on the East Buttress of El Capitan, officials said. This is an area where Horsetail Fall flows in winter and spring conditions, according to Scott Gediman of Yosemite National Park.
“This is the climbing season in Yosemite National Park and there are many climbers on El Capitan and other climbing routes in the park,” said Gediman.
The largest rock, an irregular “sheet”, measured 130 feet tall, 65 feet wide and 3-10 feet thick.
After the initial rock fall, Yosemite National Park Rangers and Yosemite Search and Rescue found the two victims and flew the seriously injured woman out of the park. As of Thursday, the park service is working with the British Consulate to notify kin and will not release the couple’s names until finished.
All other people in the area have been accounted for by authorities.
“Rockfalls are a common occurrence in Yosemite Valley and the park records about 80 rockfalls per year, though many more rockfalls go unreported,” said Gediman. “The rockfall from El Capitan was similar in size and extent compared with other rockfalls throughout the park, though it is not typical that that there were victims.”
It has been 18 years since the last death by rock fall in Yosemite. Rock climber Peter Terbush died when a rock fell from Glacier Point on June 13, 1999. There have been 16 deaths and more than 100 injuries from rock falls since park records began in 1857.
Yosemite National Park remains open and visitor services are not affected.