An Israeli teenager who fell to his death last year at an iconic waterfall in California’s Yosemite National Park was trying to mimic a popular social media photograph when he fell, authorities said.
Park officials said Tomer Frankfurter of Jerusalem, 18, was near the top of Nevada Fall when he fell nearly 600 feet (183 meters) on Sept. 4 but offered few other details.
Documents provided Monday to The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show Frankfurter was with a group he had met at Yosemite and they were about to hike down when he handed his phone to a woman and asked her to take his photo while hanging over the edge.
Witnesses told authorities Frankfurter said he was visiting the United States before beginning his compulsory Israeli Army service and that he wanted to reenact a photo often taken by tourists at Telegraph Rock in Rio de Janeiro. They said they told Frankfurter that in that photo people dangle from the edge of a rock that is not far from the ground but he didn’t listen.
In accounts from the witnesses, whose names are redacted, they told investigators the woman first snapped the photos but Frankfurter soon asked for help because he couldn’t climb back up.
“I thought he was joking,” one witness told investigators. “I turned around because I couldn’t watch, but he was hanging off the rock. Then he started to struggle.”
Three people rushed to help and held him by his arms and hands but he started sweating and slipped from their grip, falling to his death.
“Myself and the other two people just stood there shocked as he rolled down the cliff,” one witness who tried to pull Frankfurter up told investigators. “We tried as hard as we could but we had to let go.”
The month after Frankfurter’s death, a young couple from India died in a fall from a scenic overlook in Yosemite. Their tripod was later discovered on the edge of the overlook and a relative said it appeared the couple died trying to take a photo.