Air France pilot falls 1,000 feet to his death while hiking tallest mountain in contiguous U.S.

A pilot from France who disappeared while hiking California’s towering Mount Whitney was found dead after falling about 1,000 feet off a cliff, the National Park Service said Friday.

The hiker was identified as Tom Gerbier of Fontenay-sous-Bois, France, who was a pilot for Air France, the park service said in a statement. He was 38, according to a missing poster issued by the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, which was part of the search.

The tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney rises 14,494 feet on the eastern border of Sequoia National Park and is a difficult but popular hike.

Gerbier started out at Whitney Portal near the town of Lone Pine early Tuesday and was reported missing when he didn’t show up for his return flight Wednesday, the park service said.

The park service and local authorities sent ground teams to the area Thursday.

The searchers spotted clues that someone may have fallen off a cliff in an area called “The Notch,” and a helicopter crew directed there spotted a motionless person in clothing matching Gerbier’s description.

A National Park Service ranger attaches rigging for a helicopter short haul.

National Park Service

The body was recovered by helicopter that evening, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Gerbier’s identity.

Air France said in a statement that Gerbier had been on a stopover in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“The company offers its most sincere condolences to his family and loved ones,” the airline said.

Mount Whitney has claimed several lives in recent years

In a Facebook statement, the sheriff’s office reminded the public that climbing the mountain is highly technical and requires a high level of experience and equipment.

“It is not a hike and has claimed multiple lives in recent years,” the office said. “Please consider your abilities honestly and consider hiring a guide service if warranted. Remember, no matter how skilled and prepared you are, accidents can happen to anyone.”     

In 2021, officials said altitude sickness and severe storm conditions likely caused an Army veteran to fall to his death while trying to climb the mountain. That same year, a Texas man fell to his death during a day hike to the peak. 

In 2020, Cassandra Bravo, a nurse and single mother of two, died after an accident while hiking the mountain.

In 2017, a 75-year-old community college professor from Texas fell to his death on the mountain and in 2018, two people died in separate falls.


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