Climber in fatal fall identified
Ryan Summerlin July 11, 2009
ASPEN – The climber who died in a fall Friday on Capitol Peak, southwest of Aspen, has been identified as James “Jimi” Raymond Flowers of Colorado Springs, a U.S. Paralympic swim coach.
Flowers, 47, and his climbing partner were reportedly descending Capitol when Flowers apparently lost his footing crossing a section of snow, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
The U.S. Olympic Committee acknowledged Flowers’ death Saturday.
“Our entire USOC organization is shocked and saddened by the tragic death of our friend and colleague, Jimi Flowers,” said USOC acting CEO Stephanie Streeter. “Jimi was an incredible coach who developed numerous Olympic and Paralympic champions. He was passionate about swimming, dedicated to helping others and was such an inspiration to athletes, colleagues and all who knew him.”
Flowers was USA Swimming’s national team director from 1989-93. He also worked at Auburn and the USOC.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Jimi Flowers,” USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said. “Jimi was a wonderful man and a friend to so many of us in the swimming family and in the Olympic community. Our thoughts and prayers today are with Jimi’s family as well as with our friends at U.S. Paralympics.”
Authorities believe Flowers fell at about 13,000 feet, on the east side of the ridge between K2 and Daly saddle. Flowers’ climbing partner, who was not identified in a sheriff’s office news release about the incident, reported seeing Flowers sliding at high speed through snow chutes and rock bands, coming to rest at about 12,500 feet in a rocky section.
K2 is a point on 14,130-foot Capitol Peak, northeast of the infamous Knife Edge – a thin ridge of rock – that leads to the summit from K2. Northeast of K2 is Mount Daly.
The partner contacted his own wife, at about 2:45 p.m., and she contacted authorities. Mountain Rescue Aspen and a Flight for Life helicopter were summoned, but a Frisco-based helicopter was unable to fly because of mechanical problems and a chopper was dispatched from Denver, according to the sheriff’s office.
Mountain Rescue members were picked up by the helicopter at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and dropped, one at a time, onto a flat knoll about 1.5 miles from Flowers’ location. Both deputies and the rescue leader were able to maintain periodic cell phone contact with the partner.
A Snowmass paramedic, also a member of mountain rescue, reached Flowers at about 6:25 p.m. He had no pulse and was not breathing, according to the sheriff’s office. Rescuers began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until the effort was called off by Aspen Valley Hospital’s emergency department. Flowers apparently suffered significant injuries to his head, back and a leg.
Flowers’ climbing partner was evacuated by a second Flight for Life helicopter, while a three-person Mountain Rescue team spent the night near Flowers’ body. A second, four-person team hiked in from the Capitol Lake trailhead and spent the night about a mile below the lake.
Beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday, rescuers aided in transporting Flowers’ body, which was picked up by helicopter using a long cable and flown to the nearest landing spot, where other rescuers put the body into the aircraft. The helicopter delivered the body to Aspen Valley Hospital shortly after 8:30 a.m.
Rescuers at the scene were also transported out via helicopter, while the second team hiked back out to the trailhead. The operation involved 19 team members on both Friday and Saturday; it concluded by noon Saturday.
Most climbing accidents occur during the descent, when fatigue and a relaxed mindset can lead to inattention, according to Mountain Rescue. The exact cause of Flowers’ fall may never been known, the sheriff’s office noted.