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Body of climber recovered from waterfall near Julian

February 13, 2011 |  4:25 pm

It took about 100 people from multiple agencies to recover the body of an Orange County man who died while rappelling down the side of a waterfall in a remote section of the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said Sunday.

The body of Matthew David Pack, 24, of San Juan Capistrano, was retrieved Saturday, the day after he was discovered by a hiker passing by Mildred Falls, in the rugged wilderness near Julian.

According to Jan Caldwell, public affairs director for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Pack was about two-thirds of the way down the side of the cliff that the waterfall pours over, and was dangling in the midst of the torrent. She said the cliff is about 300 feet high.

At the time that the hiker spotted him and called 911, Pack was still alive and was calling for help, Caldwell said. Emergency units responded “very quickly,” she said, but by the time they arrived late Friday afternoon, it was apparent that Pack was dead, possibly from exposure to water with temperature in the high 30s.

Authorities decided to wait until morning to attempt a recovery, she said. When they did, the operation was extremely challenging, she said, because it involved recovering a body from a slippery, sheer wall. Rescuers were able to bring Pack's body back to the ledge where he was believed to have started, and his body was lifted by helicopter to a landing pad about half a mile away.

“It was very, very difficult – it was probably one of the most challenging and difficult rescues to perform,” Caldwell said.

The coroner’s office had not determined the cause of death.

Among those participating in the recovery, Caldwell said, were sheriff’s deputies, search and rescue volunteers, mountain rescue workers, Encinitas lifeguards, Border Patrol search and rescue officers and the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department

-- Mitchell Landsberg