31-year-old free climber falls to his death at Linville Gorge

BURKE COUNTY, N.C. — A rock climber died Sunday after falling more than 80 feet from Shortoff Mountain in Burke County, officials said.

Burke County Emergency Services Director Mike Willis said rescue crews were able to reach the victim by rappelling down the mountain about 90 minutes after the call for aid was made. Other climbers were performing CPR on the victim.

The victim, 31-year-old Austin Howell, of Chicago, was pronounced dead at 1:30 p.m.

Authorities said Howell was free climbing in one of the most challenging portions of the Linville Gorge.

The U.S. Forest Service is investigating the incident.