Victims in El Capitan rockfall at Yosemite were British tourists

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- One British tourist was killed and another was injured after a series of rockfalls on El Capitan, the most prominent granite cliff in Yosemite National Park, according to a statement from the National Park Service.

The fatal rockslides appeared to have started near the Waterfall Route, a "popular climbing route" on the east buttress of the famous, nearly 3,000-foot granite wall, the NPS said.

Another rockslide rattled the famous rock climbing destination on Thursday afternoon and left one person injured, Yosemite National Park Public Affairs Officer Scott Gediman said.

The slide occurred at 3:21 p.m. in the same area as Wednesday's fatal rockfall, he said.

"Today's rockfall was significantly larger than yesterday," Gediman said. The park will remain open in light of the rockslide and visitors do not need to cancel their planned trips to the park, he said.

The NPS said the source of the rockfalls was about 650 feet above the base of El Capitan, or about 1,800 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley.

After the initial rockfall, Yosemite National Park Rangers and Search and Rescue team found one deceased male, identified as Andrew Foster of Wales, and one seriously injured female, identified as his wife. Her name was not released by park authorities.

The injured woman was airlifted out of the park and is undergoing medical treatment in a nearby hospital.

The couple were visiting the park from the United Kingdom and were there to rock climb, though they were not climbing at the time of the rockfall, the park service said. All other people in the area were accounted for.

Multiple rockfalls

Seven rockfalls occurred over four hours on Wednesday afternoon, the park service said. In all, the volume of the rockfalls weighed about 1,300 tons, and the irregular sheet of rock that fell was estimated to be 130 feet tall, 65 feet wide and 3 to 10 feet thick.

"Rockfalls are a common occurrence in Yosemite Valley and the park records about 80 rockfalls per year, though many more rockfalls go unreported," the park's statement said.

"The rockfall from El Capitan was similar in size and extent compared with other rockfalls throughout the park, though it is not typical that there were victims."

Guide John DeGrazio was giving a tour of the park when he captured the moment of the rockfall.

"We saw a huge plume of smoke from the summit of Half Dome and later found out it was a fatal rockfall," he said.

"I am a guide on a tour right now. We were on the summit of Half Dome when we saw this."

El Capitan is one of the world's most famous climbs, known for its near vertical cliffs. It was believed to be impossible to climb until 1957, when American rock climbing pioneer Warren Harding made it to the top with two aides.

In June, climber Alex Honnold became the first person to free-solo climb the mountain.