By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Rock climber Dean Potter and another man died while attempting parachute jumps from a 3,000-foot-high (900-metre) cliff in California's Yosemite National Park, officials said on Monday, the latest in a string of deaths nationwide in the extreme sport of BASE jumping.
The bodies of Potter and a climbing partner, Graham Hunt, were discovered Sunday after a massive search that began at dawn, Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said.
They were reported missing Saturday night after jumping with parachutes from a cliff near the park's storied El Capitan and Half Dome rock formations in a type of extreme sport in which climbers leap from fixed points, often bridges or high mountain cliffs.
Potter, 43, was well-known as a personality and athlete, especially in the community of rock climbers and parachutists in the western United States.
"It's a horror," said Gediman. "The mood around here is tragic. A lot of people are touched by it."
It was not immediately clear what went wrong with their jumps. There are reports that the two failed to pass safely through a notch in the rock during their descent and that their parachutes never opened, Gediman said.
Although BASE - or buildings, antennas, spans and earth - jumping is prohibited in Yosemite, Potter lived nearby and made little secret of flouting the rules.
He frequently jumped with his dog, Whisper, in tow, and last year Potter was featured in a documentary about rock climbing and the counterculture surrounding it.
In an interview from 2012 posted on the ABC News website, Potter acknowledged doubts about pursuing the dangerous activities for which he became famous, including BASE jumping, walking on a wire between two cliffs and other feats.
"In some ways I wonder if it's healthy what I do," he said on the program "Nightline." "I mean, like, you're obsessed with something that might kill you."
Earlier this month, a 73-year-old California man was killed after his parachute deployed late during a 500-foot (150-metre) jump from a bridge into the Snake River in Idaho, the second death there this year that authorities said was tied to BASE jumping.
Last year, people died attempting jumps in Glacier National Park in Montana, Utah's Zion National Park and other locations, among them a new bride who was killed despite her husband's attempt to jump after her and come to her rescue.
On Saturday evening, Potter and Hunt, 29, jumped off Taft Point and did not return, Gediman said. By the time park officials were alerted, it was too dark to search.
Aided by a helicopter from the California Highway Patrol, park rangers found their bodies on Sunday, Gediman said.
The Stanislaus County Coroner's Office has not yet conducted its autopsies of the bodies, spokesman Tom Killian said Monday.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech)