A Dartmouth College graduate student from Irvine and a fellow student plunged to their deaths while rappelling down a steep mountainside in a New Hampshire state park, police said Monday.
The bodies of Joel Sunshine, 24, an engineering graduate student from Irvine, and his companion, Marc Fragge, 23, of Ft. Mitchell, Ky., were discovered Sunday by two other climbers in the mountainous Cannon Cliffs area of Franconia Notch State Park, according to New Hampshire State Police Lt. Jeff Gray. Sunshine and Fragge “apparently suffered an extensive fall,” Gray said in a press release.
They had been rappelling in a “technical climb area” known as “Beware of the Dog,” Gray said.
“They were rappelling down and apparently were both tied to the same anchor point, and when one fell it broke the point where it was tied off,” Maj. Henry Mock of the Fish and Game Department said.
Mock said that authorities had not determined how far the two fell but that they believe that the accident happened at 3:38 p.m. Sunday. That was the time on a smashed watch strapped to one of the climber’s packs, he said.
Officials received word of the accident at 5:20 p.m., and Fish and Game rescuers reached the scene shortly after 8 p.m., Gray said. A rescue team of 50 people removed the bodies about 2 1/2 hours later. They were taken to Concord Hospital for autopsies. The accident is being investigated, Gray said.
Sunshine’s mother, Peggy, said Monday that her son had been climbing mountains “for a long, long time.”
Joel Sunshine is a graduate of Newport Harbor High School. He attended UC Davis for two years before transferring to UC Santa Barbara, where he graduated in 1986 “with highest honors” in mechanical engineering, she said. “And then he went to Dartmouth. He was going to go to Europe after writing his thesis. He was almost done writing it.
“He was the athletic one, the one always ready to try something new,” Peggy Sunshine said. “But he was always careful. He wasn’t a crazy man.” Of his rock climbing she said, “We considered him fairly experienced.” She paused and added softly, “until now.”