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Falling Rock, Inadequate Area Security, California, Joshua Tree National Monument


California, Joshua Tree National Monument

On October 16, 1988, at 1415, a rock was dislodged and fell about 15 meters, striking two individuals—Pat Teague (40) and Pam Viviano (19). This accident occurred in Group Site #8 of the Indian Cove Campground during a Technical Resuce Training Seminar hosted by Joshua Tree National Monument.

The lesson plan for the afternoon was to practice ascending a rope using technical equipment. Augusto Conde (student) was about two meters off the ground on rope #1 and seemed to be having some problems. Pat Teague (instructor) had ascended rope #2 and was attempting to assist Augusto. (Pat was facing east with Augusto in front but slightly below him, and the rock wall that was being ascended was to the south.) Pam Viviano (instructor) was sitting in a rock depression on the ground below Pat and slightly to the west. Pam was holding on to rope #3 while another student was ascending above her. Stan Levitt (instructor) was also on rope #2, but about 12 meters above the ground. Stan’s job was to assist any student having trouble once that student neared the top of the ascent.

As Pat Teague began to move about on rope #2 to assist Augusto, this caused Stan Levitt (also on the same rope but higher up) to begin spinning around. To stop himself, and also to get a little further away from the rock wall, Stan pushed off against what appeared to be a solid rock flake. The flake immediately broke free and fell. Stan yelled, “Rock,” as the football size projectile dropped toward persons below. The rock struck Pat Teague on the left front side of his helmet and then smashed into his left hand, causing a narrow but deep cut. From there the rock, which had partly fragmented, struck Pam Viviano in the upper chest area.

Immediately after this happened, other instructors and students rushed to assist the two injured people. Both Pat and Pam were stabilized, moved to a safe area, and had their injuries treated as well as possible before being transported by ambulance to the Hi-Desert Medical Center. Both Pat and Pam were released from the hospital later that afternoon after being checked and treated.

After the accident occurred, two instructors (Jim Monroe and Steve Winslow) went up to the area from which the rock had broken. The site was checked out and the whole route was tested by pulling, pushing, kicking and hammering of the rock surface. Several loose and/or questionable rock formations were removed and allowed to fall to the ground. (Source: Mike Brinkmeyer, Joshua Tree National Monument)


The route had been ascended about 20 times by students and at least three times by instructors prior to the accident without any mishap. Future sites utilized for rock rescue training should be more thoroughly checked over. This would include the whole length of the intended route. (Source: Mike Brinkmeyer, Joshua Tree National Monument)