NEBO — A ‘free soloist’ climber from Chicago was pronounced dead at the scene after falling approximately 80 feet from Shortoff Mountain on Sunday, June 30, according to a statement from Burke County Office of Emergency Services.

“The victim, 31-year-old Austin Howell of Chicago, was reportedly free climbing in one of the most difficult portions of the Linville Gorge,” said the statement. “The specific details of the accident are unknown at this time.”

According to the statement, the call came in at 11:46 a.m. from Burke County Emergency Communications Center.

“At approximately 1:18 p.m., rescue crews reached the victim utilizing rappelling equipment while other climbers were performing CPR on the victim,” the statement explained. “The victim was pronounced deceased at approximately 1:30 p.m.”

Howell is a noted climber who doesn’t use any ropes, harnesses or any other safety equipment.

Rescuers from 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 Fire Rescue, Oak Hill Fire Rescue, Glen Alpine Fire Department, Linville Central Rescue Squad, Parkway Fire Rescue, North Carolina Emergency Management, North Carolina National Guard, North Carolina Helo Aquatic Rescue Team and U.S. Forest Service utilized equipment and manpower to extricate the victim.

According to Burke County, the U.S. Forest Service is investigating the accident.

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