Raw video: Phoenix Fire Dept. briefing on off-duty firefighter killed while rappelling


by Catherine Holland

Video reports by Ryan O'Donnell, Heidi Goitia and Tammy Rose, Chopper 3

Posted on August 8, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 8 at 3:45 PM

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PHOENIX -- An off-duty firefighter was killed and two teen boys were hurt when they fell while rappelling at Echo Canyon on Camelback Mountain Friday morning.

A spokeswoman for the Phoenix Fire Department identified the firefighter as Gary Johnstone. He was with the Phoenix Fire Department for 15 years and the Sun City Fire Department for 10 years prior to that. He joined the PFD Technical Rescue Team in 2006.

Rescue crews were called out at about 7 a.m.

Aerial video from Chopper 3 showed firefighters with the patients, an adult man and two teenage boys, about 200 meters up the trail. It is not clear how the three are related.

"The information that we're getting right now is that they were possibly all rappelling together as a group," Capt. Mark Vanacore of the Phoenix Police Department told 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell as the rescue operation was wrapping up.

Preliminary reports are that the trio fell about 30 feet.

Early on, Vanacore said one teenage boy and a 45-year-old male were in extremely critical condition. The man, who was an off-duty firefighter, later died. The other teenage boy suffered less serious injuries.

The teens' conditions were not immediately available.

Chopper 3 was overhead as rescue crews rushed the patients down the mountain, two of them on big wheels.

"This is rugged terrain," Vanacore said.

Police are trying determine exactly what happened in the moments before the trio fell. While they believe this was an accident, they have to investigate any time there is a fatality.

"The area and trail will be closed for most the day while PD investigates this occurrence," Vanacore said.

The Echo Canyon trail on Camelback Mountain, one of the Valley's most popular hiking trails, reopened to the public on Jan. 15, after a $4.34 million renovation project that took a year to complete.

Because of its popularity, Echo Canyon has been the site of many mountain rescues.