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Rappel Error—Failed to Thread Both Ropes Through Friction Device, No Belay, Arizona, Cochise Stronghold


Arizona, Cochise Stronghold

On October 28, John Payne, Jr., Mark Plassman, and Bruce McKenzie set off for “What’s My Line,” a three-pitch 5.6 in Cochise Stronghold. The trio topped out in the early afternoon and had lunch. After lunch, they set up the rappel and Bruce headed down to the first ledge, a mere 30 feet down and as big as a living room. Next came Mark. John started his descent and screamed. He hadn’t threaded both strands through his tuber. He fell just past the ledge, glancing off, and disappeared, taking not only the rope he was tied into with him, but also the second line which he had strapped to his back. We will never know what happened to John when he roped in—he screwed up and it cost him his life. If he had started the rap eight feet to the right, he would have had a 30 foot fall.

Bruce and Mark were left on the ledge with some extra food and some webbing. The next morning they signaled some hikers and tried to get them to do the route using John’s gear; neither of them were climbers, however and the weather had become inclement: rainy and windy. The hikers left to get Search and Rescue—a six hour hike at least. After ten hours, SAR came in. It was still rainy and they were unable to get a rope to Bruce and Mark. At this point a chopper was called in. It’s unclear what the original purpose of the chopper was, because after hovering for a while it left to get some rope and coats to drop to Bruce and Mark.

When the chopper returned with 200 feet of rope, Bruce and Mark had been on the ledge for over 30 hours. The rope was delivered and Bruce and Mark rapped the rest of the way down. They did have extra clothes and rain gear, but it was at the base of the climb. Both Bruce and John had done the route numerous times previously. The choice of route was made because it was known by both quite well and Bruce and Mark had never climbed together. Ironically, John did check Mark, who was using an ATC, before he rapped. (Source: Brian McKenzie)