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Rock climber dies after free climbing, falling at Linville Gorge

The climber was believed to be free climbing one of the most difficult portions of the Linville Gorge.

MORGANTON, N.C. — On June 30 around 11:45 a.m., Burke County Emergency Communications Center received a call that a rock climber fell approximately 80 feet from Shortoff Mountain. 

Rescue crews reached the victim just around 1:18 p.m. utilizing rappelling equipment while other climbers performed CPR on the victim.

The climber, 31-year-old Austin Howell of Chicago Illinois, was pronounced deceased at approximately 2:30 p.m.

Howell was believed to be free climbing one of the most difficult portions of the Linville Gorge.

Officials say specific details of the accident are still unknown.

There were several different first responder teams assisting in the rescue, including: Burke County Rescue Squad, Burke County Emergency Medical Service, Burke County Emergency Management, Burke County REACT, Lake James Fire Rescue, Chesterfield Fire Rescue, South Mountain  FireRescue, Oak Hill Fire Rescue, Glen Alpine Fire Department, Avery County Rescue Squad, Parkway Fire Rescue, North Carolina Emergency Management, North Carolina National Guard, North Carolina Helo Aquatic Rescue Team, US Forest Service. 

The US Forest Service is now investigating the accident.

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