Missing French Pilot Falls 1,000 Feet to His Death at National Park

A French pilot, identified as Tom Gerbier, tragically lost his life last week during a hike on Mt. Whitney in California’s Sequoia and Kings National Park.

Gerbier, a resident of Fontenay-sous-Bois, France, and an employee of Air France, embarked on his hike from Whitney Portal, the starting point for Mt. Whitney, early Tuesday morning. He was scheduled to return to France the following day, according to a statement from the National Park Service on Friday.

Gerbier was known as an accomplished mountaineer and ultra-runner, equipped with the necessary gear and skills to navigate his chosen route, as per the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office. However, when he failed to appear for his return flight on Wednesday, he was reported missing.

Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, stands at an elevation of 14,505 feet. Following Gerbier’s disappearance, the sheriff’s office promptly initiated rescue operations, conducting aerial surveys of Mt. Whitney. Despite their efforts, no trace of Gerbier was found.

On Thursday morning, ground teams were dispatched and discovered evidence suggesting a hiker may have fallen from a cliff in an area known as “The Notch.” This area, where the Mountaineer’s Route intersects with the steep and exposed North Face of Mt. Whitney, is known for its treacherous terrain.

A National Park Service (NPS) helicopter later spotted a motionless figure dressed in clothing matching Gerbier’s description in the area known as “The Notch.” It was determined that Gerbier had likely fallen approximately 1,000 feet. His body was subsequently recovered by helicopter and transferred to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, where his identity was confirmed.

Air France expressed its condolences in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, confirming the accidental death of one of its pilots on October 20, 2023, during a stopover in Los Angeles, California.

The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning about the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt. Whitney, emphasizing that it is a technical climb requiring advanced mountaineering skills and equipment. The office also noted that the route has claimed multiple lives in recent years, reminding the public that accidents can occur regardless of one’s skill level or preparedness.

Gerbier’s death marks the second fatality reported at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year.