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Firefighter dies, two teenagers injured in Arizona climbing accident

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An off-duty firefighter and experienced rescuer fell some 30 feet to his death and two 15-year-old boys were injured on Friday while climbing on a popular mountain in Phoenix, fire and police officials said.

Gary Johnstone, 50, who had served on the Phoenix Fire Department's technical rescue team since 2006, was pronounced dead at a hospital from injuries sustained in the accident on Camelback Mountain, officials said.

One of the youths remained in extremely critical condition at the hospital on Friday, while the other boy is reported to be in stable condition, said Phoenix police Sergeant Steve Martos.

Fire rescue crews were called to the Echo Canyon Trail at about 7 a.m. and found Johnstone and the two teens. All three had fallen after some sort of climbing accident.

Martos said the two boys were friends with Johnstone's son, who also was there at the time but was not injured. It was not immediately clear what went wrong during the incident.

Johnstone, who was married with three children, was hailed by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.

"This is a person who loved his job so very much, he was proud to be a Phoenix firefighter," Stanton told a news conference. "It was more than a career, it was a calling."

The Fire Department's deputy chief, Shelly Jamison, said the accident was a powerful reminder of the ever-present danger of hiking in the mountains in the Phoenix area.

"Those mountains are incredibly dangerous," Jamison said. "The level of experience doesn’t necessarily play a part in what can happen on them."

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)

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