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Two American climbers, Brandon Scott Burns (25) and Mark Anthony Bacolod Stiles (35) passed away after falls while deep water soloing in a sea cave on the Mallorcan coast. Both men, of Baltimore, Maryland, met at a local church, St. Moses, and were traveling through Europe together, according to Brandon’s father, Jim Burns. The duo had visited a handful of countries, including England, France, and Germany, before their trip to Spain. They were staying in Barcelona.
According to the Spanish Guardia Civil, nearby swimmers, who had seen the pair climbing with chalk bags earlier that morning, spotted a body floating in the water near a sea cave and raised the alarm at approximately 1:00 pm on Tuesday, September 14th. “A local lifeguard and some nearby swimmers provided him with first aid but were unable to revive him,” a Guardia Civil spokesperson told The Guardian. “Then another body was spotted closer to the cave. The maritime rescue service arrived but there was nothing more to be done.”
Legendary Spanish climbers Eneko and Iker Pou posted their condolences on Twitter. “Dismay and much pain at the news that has just reached us of the death of two climbers doing psicobloc today in Cala Sa Nau, Mallorca,” they wrote, adding that all the evidence “points to rockfall” as the cause. Brandon’s father also reported rockfall as the cause in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Cala Sa Nau is a beach located on the southeastern coast of the island, just south of the port of Portocolom, where the bodies were taken after they were recovered. The climbers were climbing in Cueva des Cossi, a sea cave adjacent to the beach. Miguel Chicon, head of a local maritime rescue center that participated in the recovery, told The Olive Press that a privately-owned boat had to recover one of the bodies because the water in the area was too shallow for the rescue boat.
It’s not the first time Mallorca has been home to a fatal psicobloc accident. British climber Philip John Hawkes (25) died in 2012 while climbing on cliffs at Cala Serena. Hawkes apparently drowned after falling into the ocean carrying heavy gear, including carabiners and a rope. He “had run out of strength to get out of the sea,” his partner told Spanish climbing magazine Desnivel at the time. Another British climber, Damian Cook, drowned at famous DWS crag Cova del Diablo in 2004.
Both Burns and Stiles were extremely active in their church and community, particularly in the nonprofit sector. Burns was an avid drummer, traveler, and project engineer at Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, according to his father. He also played in the company’s volleyball league. “He was a very active guy and ultimately the nicest person with a huge heart,” wrote work colleague John Knox on his GoFundMe (see below). “He had a very positive presence and we will all miss playing with him.” Brandon hoped to one day work with the Christian nonprofit Engineering Ministries International (EMI), building infrastructure for impoverished communities around the world.
Stiles was the executive director of the 1C9 Leadership Foundation, a Christian nonprofit based in Baltimore, and previously worked for the CASH Campaign of Maryland, another nonprofit. “The CASH team were leaning on one another for support during the quarantine, and we were often delighted by Mark’s humor and positive outlook during virtual staff meetings,” Sara Johnson, the nonprofit’s co-founder and chief operating officer, told The Baltimore Sun. Stiles was also an active member of Back on My Feet, a nonprofit that combats homelessness, and a founding member of the organization’s Team Penn North chapter.
Both men currently have GoFundMe pages organized by family and friends to help with funeral costs and bringing their bodies back to the U.S. Brandon reportedly also requested that in the event of his death, funds be donated to EMI, the nonprofit he hoped to one day work for. You can support Burns’ GoFundMe HERE and Stiles’ HERE.
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