Teen who dangled, fell from Yosemite cliff was reportedly mimicking a popular social media photo

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New details made public about an Israeli teenager’s fatal fall last year from a massive cliff in Yosemite National Park illustrate a startling desire to satisfy social media trends with dangerous selfies.

Tomer Frankfurter, 18, dangled from a ledge atop Nevada Fall until he couldn’t hang on any longer. The tourist group he teamed up with to hike the Mist Trail, a popular 5.4-mile route to the 594-foot waterfall, said Frankfurter told his new friends he wanted to mimic a popular photo tourists take when visiting Brazil. 

But the photos that tourists take at Telegraph Rock—which are often shared on Instagram, Facebook or other social media—are an illusion. It looks as if visitors are clinging to a rock outcrop thousands of feet above the ground, but really the trail is just a few feet below. There is nothing illusionary about the drop from Nevada Fall. 

Frankfurter’s death made national headlines, but details were not released until the Denver Post acquired them through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

According to the Post, the group of hikers had already had lunch at the top and they were preparing to start their descent when Frankfurter said there was something he wanted to do first. He took off his backpack, handed his phone to a young woman in the group and climbed over the edge.

“I thought he was joking,” one witness told investigators. “I turned around because I couldn’t watch, but he was hanging off the rock. Then he started to struggle.” 

Ignoring shouts to stop, the math student from Jerusalem who was visiting America before beginning his compulsory service with the Israeli army, was hanging hundreds of feet above the granite rock floor. The young woman with his phone snapped photos and everything seemed fine until it wasn’t. 

“I need help,” Frankfurter called out. 

Witnesses responded rapidly. They grabbed his sweaty arms and wrists and tried to pull him to safety, but he slipped. He fell. 

“Frankfurter died in a tragic accident, in circumstances that he was entirely in control of until the point of his fall,” wrote Jesse McGahey, the Yosemite ranger who filed the death investigation report. “The witnesses that attempted to render aid were heroic in their actions, but once Frankfurter descended to hang from the edge of the cliff face, there was nothing they could have done to prevent this fall with the equipment available.”

The post reports Yosemite officials have declined to comment on the death. 

Roughly a month after Frankfurter fell, a couple died after falling 3,500 feet from Taft Point to the Yosemite Valley floor. It appeared they were attempting to take a photo, too. A tripod was reportedly set up near an overlook. And just last week, a Hong Kong tourist died in the Grand Canyon after he stumbled while taking a photo. He fell 1,000 feet. 

The Journal of Family Medicine reports that at least 259 people died around the world taking selfies between 2011 and 2017. But the actual number may be larger, according to the journal, because selfie deaths are sometimes categorized as general fatal accidents. 

KTVU reported this story from Oakland.