Man falls to death at Mt. Whitney

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The body of a 60-year-old man from Southern California was recovered from Mount Whitney on Monday. He fell to his death Sunday afternoon, and a Bakersfield man ended up locating the body and helping direct rescue crews to it.

A news release from Sequoia National Park said Yukio Kato fell approximately 200 feet over a cliff to his death around 1:30 p.m. Sunday. He was about 1 mile from Mt. Whitney at 13,500 feet above sea level, on his way back to the Whitney Portal trail head when it happened.

Bakersfield businessman Thomas Rockwell was about three-quarters of the way up the switchbacks with his friend Garrett Johnson when he got word of the accident. They trekked with a woman from the victim's party to the body and set off a GPS signal for help.

Johnson accompanied the woman back to base and Rockwell stayed with the body until he was relieved by park rangers about an hour later.

According to park officials, the body recovery was scheduled for Monday because of limited daylight.

The cause of the fall is under investigation. Weather is not considered a factor. Rockwell said he believes the man was affected by altitude sickness and simply lost his balance and slipped.

"The territory is in extreme lack of simple technology that is readily available," said Rockwell.

In this case, better cell reception may have only led to a faster recovery of the body. But he noted that in six of the seven times he's climbed the mountain, he's been a first responder to those needing help and something as simple as reliable cell service could save lives.