The person who was killed Wednesday after a large rock fell off Yosemite National Park’s popular El Capitan rock formation has been identified as Andrew Foster, a 32-year-old climber from Wales, according to British media.
The falling rock also seriously injured Foster’s wife, 28-year-old Lucy Foster, according to the BBC, who described the pair as a newly married couple who ran a blog called “Cam and Bear” documenting their outdoor adventures.
Just before he died, Andrew Foster tried to shield his wife from the falling slab, family members told the Times.
“She said, ‘Andrew saved my life. He dived on top of me as soon as he could see what was going to happen. He saved my life,’ ” Gillian Stephens, Andrew Foster’s aunt, told the British newspaper. “They were so devoted to each other. It really was a love story.”
On their blog, the Fosters shared advice about the climbing gear they used and said they weren’t extreme athletes, but simply weekend warriors who were passionate about exploring the outdoors. Photos showed the pair on various excursions — biking, skiing, kayaking, climbing — often smiling into the camera together.
Their trip to Yosemite this month had been a “dream holiday” to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary, the Guardian reported.
After their Yosemite trip, the couple had wanted to convert a van into a motor home so they could explore the European Alps for a year, according to a statement from Up and Under, an outdoor gear shop in Cardiff where Andrew Foster used to work.
Yosemite National Park officials said the rock that fell Wednesday was one of seven successive rockfalls that took place over a four-hour period that day on the southeast face of El Capitan, one of the world’s most famously scaled granite monoliths. The rock that killed Andrew Foster dropped around 1:55 p.m. local time near the “Waterfall Route,” a popular climbing route on the East Buttress of 3,000-foot-tall El Capitan, said Danielle Bonnici, a park ranger and Yosemite spokeswoman.
In all, park officials estimated about 16,000 cubic feet and 1,300 tons of rock came down in the seven rockfalls, and that the irregular “sheet” that fell was about 130 feet tall, 65 feet wide and three to 10 feet thick.
Though rockfalls themselves are not unusual, it had been more than 18 years since someone had been killed by one in the park, they added.
“Rockfalls are a common occurrence in Yosemite Valley and the park records about 80 rockfalls per year; though many more rockfalls go unreported,” park officials said in a statement. “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.”
After the first rockfall Wednesday, park rangers began searching for people at the base and discovered one fatality and one injury, later identified by British media as the Fosters. They were not climbing at the time of the rockfall, park officials said.
The injured woman was flown to a hospital from the park, which is about 150 miles east of San Francisco. Though Yosemite did not identify her, park ranger Scott Gedimen confirmed to the BBC that the injured woman was being treated for life-threatening injuries.
Officials said rescue teams used a helicopter to search the area for any other people injured in the rockfall, which occurred on a day with clear blue skies at the height of climbing season.
John P. DeGrazio, a wilderness guide in Yosemite, said Wednesday the hiking group he was leading had stopped to take pictures on the summit of Half Dome, another famous monolith in Yosemite, when they saw a “huge plume of smoke” come from El Capitan.
“At first, we thought it could have been a fire,” he said. “Once we saw how quickly it dissipated, we knew it wasn’t a fire. When someone said it was a rockfall, I immediately thought of the climbers and knew it could be potentially bad.”
On the way down, a park ranger told DeGrazio there had been a death.
Among the hiking group, he said, there was “definite surprise and obvious remorse” for the victims and their families. The hikers were also concerned for their own safety.
“They’re thinking, ‘We’re on big rocks, too,’ ” he said. “There is always risk.”
An ABC30 reporter said a Yosemite climber sent her a photograph of the rockfall, during which he said “a piece of granite the size of an apartment building came crashing down the Waterfall Route.”
El Capitan is considered the “Mount Everest of rock climbing,” with thousands ascending it each year.
There were 58 rockfalls in Yosemite in 2016, which was slightly lower than in previous years, according to the National Park Service.
Sometimes, rockfalls have obvious causes, including storms or earthquakes, while others occur on clear, sunny days.
“We have a lot of rockfalls in Yosemite because the cliffs are so big and steep,” Greg Stock, Yosemite’s park geologist, told the Smithsonian Magazine.
The rocks break away in giant slabs because they are destabilized by small contractions that come with changes in season and temperature. Usually, the trigger is something recognizable, but the heat of the day can also be enough to cause a slab to fall, he said.
Stock said that in the past 150 years, about 15 people have died as a result of rockfalls.
He has tried to reduce the hazard of rockfalls by moving buildings and places where hikers congregate away from cliffs from which rocks might tumble, according to the Smithsonian.