Off-duty firefighter killed, 2 others hurt in fall while rappelling on Camelback Mountain

PHOENIX - Phoenix Fire officials confirmed an off-duty Phoenix firefighter has died after a fall while rappelling on a Phoenix mountain Friday morning.

Phoenix Fire Department Engineer Paramedic Gary Johnstone, 50, was at Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon Trail with his teenage son and two of his son’s friends, according to officials at a media briefing Friday afternoon.

Crews responded to a call that indicated three hikers may have been injured in a fall. Phoenix Fire’s technical team rescued the individuals from the mountain where one man and one teenager were reportedly unconscious and another was stable.

It is believed that the hikers were approximately 200 feet up the trail rappelling in a popular area called the “Sugar Cube.” Three of the victims are believed to have fallen about 30 feet.

Fire crews brought one of the individuals down the mountain with their “big wheel” transporter before 7:45 a.m. and could be seen working on another patient still up the mountain shortly afterward.

The patients were transported to the hospital for treatment. One of the 15-year-old boys is in extremely critical condition and the other 15-year-old is stable with serious injuries as of Friday afternoon. Authorities said Johnstone's son was not injured.

Johnstone was pronounced deceased at the hospital.

Phoenix Police planned to closed the area for most of the day to conduct an investigation of the deadly fall. The park was reopened just before 4 p.m.

"A part of the investigation is, if they were rappelling, 'Who was where? Who was at the top?' that sort of thing. The answers will come in time," said Sgt. Steve Martos with the Phoenix Police Department.

Johnstone was described as a “well-loved” and “wonderful” man. He had been with the department for 15 years after serving with the Sun City Fire Department for 10 years before that. He'd been on the technical rescue team out of Station 28 since 2006 and was active in the community.

He was also an avid bagpiper for the department as a member of the honor guard. Deputy Chief Shelly Jamison said Johnstone had played bagpipes at her grandmother's funeral.

As a member of the technical rescue team, Johnstone would have likely responded to a mountain rescue call like this one had he not been involved.

Officials stress the need for safety while engaging in recreational activities up Phoenix’s mountains and trails. Anything can happen to anyone, regardless of how much experience you have.

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