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Two climbers die in fall from Horsethief Butte Crags

Climbing fatalities at Columbia Hills State Park
NEWS Media contact: Sandy Mealing

OLYMPIA – April 6, 2009 – The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission confirms that two climbers were killed in a climbing accident Sunday afternoon at the Columbia Hills State Park – Horsethief Butte in Klickitat County.

The victims were identified as 30-year-old Tony Silva and his sister-in-law, 26-year-old Laura Silva, both from the Portland, Ore. area. Next of kin have been notified. Tony Silva was declared dead-at-the-scene, while Laura Silva was taken to The Dalles Hospital and later died.

Ranger staff were notified of an accident at 12:57 p.m. Sunday, April 5, by Klickitat County Dispatch. State Parks rangers were the first officers on the scene. The investigation is ongoing, but initial information suggests the deaths were accidental.

Washington State Parks is leading the investigation with assistance from the Washington State Patrol. The area where the accident took place is closed until the investigation is concluded.

Columbia Hills State Park (which includes the Horsethief Lake area and Dalles Mountain Ranch area) is a 3,338-acre camping park with 7,500 feet of freshwater shoreline on the Columbia River. Horsethief Butte dominates the skyline and is a popular climbing location.


Families, friends of climbers who died in Columbia Gorge suffer doubly
by Kimberly A. C. Wilson and Noelle Crombie, The Oregonian
Tuesday April 07, 2009

Wide, empty skies. T-shirt temperatures. Camaraderie in a Columbia River Gorge setting where new mountaineers learn the ropes.

Then tragedy struck, just before 1 p.m.

More than 80 climbers were in the area at the time, and many saw 30-year-old Tony "T.C." Silva and his sister-in-law, 26-year-old Laura Dyal-Silva, tumble 35 feet from the pitch where they had been setting anchors.

"No one knows what happened. People saw them falling, but no one saw what caused the fall," said Peggie Schwarz, who was on a nearby climbing wall when the accident occurred.

Schwarz is the executive director of Mazamas, a mountaineering education organization that had four groups of climbers on the butte at the time. She ran to help. When she reached the scene four minutes after the climbers fell, others had called 9-1-1, sent volunteers to the road to flag down emergency personnel and were administering aide to the victims.

But it was too late. Dyal-Silva, a certified climbing instructor who was teaching her husband's brother how to climb, died of her injuries, as did Silva, a second-generation detective with the Gresham Police Department.

Horsethief Butte, in Klickitat County on the Washington side of the Columbia River, was closed to the public for two days, reopening Tuesday afternoon.

"We hope to get a clear understanding of what happened," said Washington State Parks spokeswoman Sandy Mealing.

Meanwhile, the deaths have rippled though overlapping communities of family, law enforcement, firefighters, climbers and churches.

"They're going to be horribly missed," said Scott Olsen, a pastor at Coram Deo Fellowship in Gresham where the Silva family worships. "It's pretty crushing for our church."

Within Gresham's police department, colleagues struggled through the loss of an ever-smiling eight-year veteran who gave up a lucrative career in the high-tech industry to follow his father into policing.

"I've known his dad since he came on the SWAT team," said Lt. Jeff Hansen of the Gresham force. "I kind of looked at T. C. as one of my kids."

Tony Jr., known as T. C., showed an interest in police work dating to his teen years. Silva was in the department's Explorer program, which exposes young people to careers in law enforcement. After college, he took a job at Netscape in California but ultimately decided he wanted to go home to Oregon to become a police officer like his dad,

Silva took on a range of challenging assignments, from working in Gresham's Special Emergency Response Team and its gang unit to helping revise the agency's defensive tactics program.

"The funny thing about T. C. is that he didn't know how to say no," Hansen said. "He just gave. Big-hearted."

Greg Poff, a Gresham police officer, agreed. "He wasn't just a show-up-and-do-my-shift-and-go-home kind of guy."

The loss is multiplied for those who knew both Silva and Dyal-Silva, whose father, Richard Dyal, was a Gresham firefighter. The Silva and Dyal families had long been close.

"Their families have done everything together, holidays, birthdays," said John Mayner, a longtime friend of Dyal-Silva's. Dyal-Silva and her husband, Bobby, "grew up in playpens together," Mayner said.

She had been married for about four years to Bobby Silva, a recent graduate of Multnomah University. The couple lived on the college campus and were looking forward to working as climbing and rafting guides this summer.

Dyal-Silva's older sister Tressa Nicholls described her as "full of life and personality."

"She kept us all amused with everything she did and all the different stories she told," said Nicholls, who lives in Sandy.

The youngest of three, Dyal-Silva was a doting aunt with an adventurous soul. A student at Multnomah University, a nondenominational Bible school in Northeast Portland, she was dedicated to her faith.

"Her love for Jesus just shined out of her. You could just see it in her face and in her eyes. She had a light inside of her," Nicholls said.

"She loved the sunshine and the warm weather, and she was so excited to get a day to go outside," Nicholls added.

Services for Silva and Dyal-Silva are 10 a.m. Thursday at Good Shepherd Community Church, 28986 S.E. Haley Road, in Boring.

Loved ones have established funds at Bank of America for the families left behind: the Laura Dyal-Silva Memorial Fund and the T.C. Memorial Fund.

Meanwhile, witnesses to the accident and its aftermath remain pained by the deaths.

"Everyone who was there was affected," Schwarz said.

The Mazamas are offering counseling to students, leaders and others who were on the butte Sunday, she said.


Deaths of rock climbers in Gorge blamed on error

Deaths of rock climbers in Gorge blamed on error
Tuesday, May 26 | 10:26 p.m.
By John Branton, Staff Writer

A state investigation of a rock-climbing accident that claimed the life of a Washougal man and his sister-in-law has determined
they fell due to errors in placing metal stoppers in cracks and attaching them to their webbing.

The early afternoon fall on April 5 killed Tony "T.C." Silva of Washougal and Laura Dyal-Silva of Oregon during a family outing at
Horsethief Butte, in Columbia Hills State Park in Klickitat County.

Tony Silva was a popular and well-respected detective with the Gresham, Ore., Police Department who was known for his
advanced computer skills and helping other officers.

An investigation revealed that the deaths were accidental and not caused by equipment failure, Lt. Julie Myer of the Washington State Patrol, based in Olympia, said Tuesday.

For such a climb, three wedge-like metal stoppers, wider on top and narrower on bottom, typically would be placed in cracks, Myer said. The climbers would fasten their webbing to cables on the stoppers.

Myer said Dyal-Silva had more training than Tony Silva, who was attempting to lodge the three stoppers.

Tony Silva had successfully placed one stopper and attached it to the climbers' webbing.

The second stopper had been placed in another crack, but wasn't attached to the webbing.

The fact that the webbing was all one color, gray, may have caused some confusion about whether the second stopper was attached to it, Myer said.

Tony Silva is believed to have been working on placing the third stopper when something happened, perhaps a slip. At least one witness said Tony Silva fell first, then Dyal-Silva, who was attached to the system with him.

Their webbing was attached to only one stopper, Myer said.

"We know he was connected to one stopper that failed when all their weight got onto it," Myer said.

They fell about 42 feet.

Dyal-Silva's husband, Bobby Silva, had been on top of the cliff but went down to get the families' children out of the sun, Myer said.

Rock climbing takes a lot of training said Myer, herself a climber.

"You have to constantly practice to retain that skill level."


What can be learned from this tragic event?

The primary purpose of our TraditionalMountaineering experience reports (and the purpose of the American Alpine Club's sixty-one published Annual Report's of Accidents in North American Mountaineering) is to "aid in the prevention of accidents".

The investigation of this fatal accident is being conducted by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. No official information is available until the Final Report is published at the end of April or in the first weeks in May, 2009.

There are many technical questions that should be addressed. Reportedly, there were three individuals at the top of the crag where the fatal fall of two occurred. Several climbing instructors were very nearby and they assisted the recovery of the victims and their equipment. All of the technical questions should be addressed in the Final Report. When the Final Report is issued to the public, we will complete and deliver our Report to the American Alpine Club for the 2010 edition of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. Please click here to go to our AAC Report.
--Robert Speik



See yonder height! 'Tis far away -- unbidden comes the word "Impossible!"

"Not so," says the mountaineer.  "The way is long, I know; its difficult -- it may be dangerous."

"It's possible, I'm sure; I'll seek the way, take counsel of my brother mountaineers,
and find out how they have reached similar heights and learned to avoid the dangers."

He starts (all slumbering down below); the path is slippery - and may be dangerous too. 
Caution and perseverance gain the day -- the height is reached! and those beneath cry, "Incredible! 'Tis superhuman!"

This is a passage we found on page 161 of "Scrambles Amongst the Alps" by Edward Wymper,
first published in 1871 and reprinted 1981 by Ten Speed Press, Berkley, CA.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated

Read more . . .
American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering

Two climbers die in fall from Horsethief Butte Crags, WA
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Notable mountain climbing accidents analyzed 
Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on the recent fatal accident
Mount Washington - "Oregon tragedy claims two lives"
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North Sister - climbing with Allan Throop

Smith Rock - Leader fall turns climber upside down
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Smith Rock - WARNING - top rope belay error
Smith Rock - Inadequate top rope belay
Smith Rock - Climber injured on the approach
Smith Rock - WARNING - belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope
Smith Rock - Novice sport climber injured
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Smith Rock - Fall on rock - poor position, inadequate protection
Smith Rock - Pulled rock off - fall on rock, failure to test holds, exceeding abilities
Smith Rock - Belay failure, fatal fall on rock

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Smith Rock Detour Bouldering Contest and Reel Rock Tour
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Smith Rock Spring Thing 2006 volunteer's party at the Barn
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HERA climb4life party at the Smith Rock Barn
American Alpine Club and Traditional Mountaineering build another rescue cache at Smith Rock
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Smith Rock Spring Thing 2004 Party!   
Smith Rock hiking in the spring
Smith Rock from above the Burma Road
Smith Rock rescue cache by AAC/ORS and TraditionalMountaineering
Smith Rock weekend
Smith Rock Monkey Face practice