French pilot falls to his death in California national park

 A pilot from France died while hiking California’s Mount Whitney (pictured)  (The Associated Press)
A pilot from France died while hiking California’s Mount Whitney (pictured) (The Associated Press)

A French pilot on layover in Los Angeles has fallen 1,000 feet to his death while hiking one of America’s tallest mountains.

Tom Gerbier, 38, from Fontenay-sous-Bois, a suburb East of Paris, was discovered on Thursday 19 October at the bottom of a cliff in Sequoia National Park, California.

Gerbier had set out on Tuesday 17 October to hike Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous US, at a height of 14,494ft (4,418 meters).

He was reported missing when he did not show up to pilot his Air France flight on Wednesday morning.

A search-and-rescue operation was launched and on Thursday, a ground team found clues that a hiker may have fallen off a cliff in the area known as “The Notch”.

The terrain was described as “precarious” by Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, and where “the Mountaineer’s Route meets the steep and exposed North Face of Mt. Whitney”.

A National Park Service helicopter subsequently spotted a “motionless” hiker with clothing that matched Gerbier’s description.

Gerbier is believed to have fallen around 1,000 feet, the National Park Service said. His body was recovered by helicopter and taken to Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, where his identity was confirmed.

Air France told The San Francisco Chronicle that it “regrets to confirm the accidental death of one of its pilots, which occurred on October 20th, 2023 while he was on a stopover in Los Angeles (California). The company offers its most sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.”

The sheriff’s office warned that the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt. Whitney is a technical climb that requires expert mountaineering skills and equipment.

“Gerbier was described as an experienced mountaineer and ultra runner with the gear and ability to complete his intended route,” the sheriff’s office said.

“It is not a hike and has claimed multiple lives in recent years,” the agency noted. “Remember, no matter how skilled and prepared you are, accidents can happen to anyone.”

Gerbier’s death is the second fatality in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks this year, according to the parks service.