Sitting Near Cliff's Edge, He 'Spontaneously Slumped'

Paul Classen of the Netherlands dies after falling 50 feet near Virginia's McAfee Knob
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2022 10:05 AM CDT
Hiker Seemingly Passes Out in the Worst of Places
Hiking gear sits atop McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke, Va.   (Wikimedia Commons/computingdoc)

A Dutch hiker attempting to conquer a portion of the Appalachian Trail has died after falling from a cliff in Virginia. Paul "Grandmaster" Classen, 23, who was known to carry a chess set with him, fell 50 feet from a cliff just north of the iconic 3,200-foot-tall McAfee Knob atop Catawba Mountain, per the AP. The Knob is "among the most photographed locations" on the 2,200-mile trail stretching from Georgia to Maine, per Outside. "It's a tradition for hikers to snap photographs at the edge of the cliffs," which offer panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valley. But Classen wasn't taking photos, according to witness Robyn Urdaibay. In a Facebook post, she wrote that Classen appeared to pass out while eating breakfast near the cliff edge on May 29.

"He was sitting at the edge of the cliffs past McAfee with his feet on a lower rock, not right on the edge, not posing for a photo, and not on the knob itself," when "he spontaneously slumped forwards and fell" around 6am, she wrote. "Paul's trail family ... kept him still and calm, talked to him the whole time we were waiting on rescue," another witness tells the Roanoke Times. Paramedics reached Classen within an hour of the fall. "They were reporting that he had a stable airway but was in serious condition," Brian Clingenpeel of Roanoke County Fire & Rescue tells WDBJ. Some 30 first responders and three ATVs were required to extricate the hiker, who was airlifted to a hospital, per WSLS. He died there later Sunday of undisclosed injuries. (More cliff fall stories.)

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