Rappelling accident kills UA student

By Yvonne Condes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

A UA graduate student fell to his death Sunday while climbing in the Dragoon Mountains near Bisbee.

John L. Payne, 26, master of fine arts student with an emphasis in poetry, had finished climbing the route named "What's My Line" up the Cochise dome with friends Bruce McKinsey, 25, and Marcus Plassman, 36, Plassman said.

McKinsey and Plassman had rappelled down the first 70 feet from the top and watched from a ledge as Payne attempted to rappel the remaining distance, Plassman said.

He fell more than 300 feet, according to a press release from the Cochise County Sheriff's Department, leaving Plassman and McKinsey on the ledge with no rope to get down. The two were stranded for about 30 hours without water, food or jackets before being rescued by a multi-agency rescue team.

Plassman said he thought Payne fell because he did not have the rope correctly fed into his rappelling device.

Carol Capas, a public information officer for the Cochise County Sheriff's Department, said it appeared there was some kind of technical failure with the line or the equipment.

The climb is rated a 5.6, said Plassman.

It is considered moderate in terms of difficulty, said Dave Baker, owner of Summit Hut and member of the first accent party for "What's my Line" in 1971. But "rock climbing is a dangerous sport whether it is an easy, moderate or difficult climb," he added.

Payne, who was not enrolled at UA this semester, was in the final stages of his graduate program.

The vision of what he wanted to do with his poetry was beginning to take shape, said Bill Brymer, UA master of fine arts student and Payne's friend.

His poetry was "dense, lyric and passionate," said professor of English Steve Orlen. Payne had had an awakening with his poetry recently, Orlen said.

Payne turned in a "wonderful, breakthrough" set of poems to Boyer Rickel, assistant director of creative writing, last week.

"I was really excited by what he was doing," Rickel said.

Payne came from a working-class family in Illinois, paying for school by working as a bartender, Orlen said.

"He was a good person, into writing and literature. He liked Arizona and the mountains," said Payne's father, John Sr., in a telephone interview from his home in Decatur, Ill.

John Sr. had not seen his son since December and said that Payne's mother and sister were planning a trip to Tucson so he could see his sister's new baby.

"His personality was evident in all the words. He was big man with a big heart," Brymer said. "People who took the time to know him were better off for it."

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