HUNTER — A veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a West Point cadet candidate died after falling from a popular cliff-diving spot in Kaaterskill Clove.
Benjamin Bochtler, 20, of Bellevue, Nebraska, fell to his death Saturday after a portion of the rock he was hanging onto broke from the ledge at Fawn’s Leap off Route 23A in the town of Hunter. New York State Police have said the death was accidental. The waterfalls of Fawn’s Leap, a popular swimming spot in the summer months, are as high as 24 feet in some places.
Life-saving measures attempted at the scene were unsuccessful. Bochtler was a prior enlisted veteran and a student at U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School located 77 miles south of Hunter.
The purpose of the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School is to prepare candidates selected by the U.S. Military Academy admission’s office for the academic, physical and military challenges of the United States Military Academy at West Point, according to the school’s website.
“Cadet Candidate Bochtler had an incredible smile and infectious positive attitude,” said Col. Joshua Higgins, commandant of the preparatory school.
The incident was still under investigation by state police Monday.
Higgins thanked New York State Police and first responders who attempted to save Bochtler’s life.
“He was everyone’s friend,” Higgins said. “Ben was a prior enlisted combat veteran who set a tremendous example and used his experience in the Army to help his fellow cadet candidates. His warm personality and that big smile made a lasting impact on everyone at USMAPS [the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School]. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and friends.”
Bochtler entered West Point Academy in July 2019. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2016 as an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operator (15W). He attended Initial Entry Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
Bochtler was assigned to the 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion at Fort Carson, Colorado, from March 2018 to July 2019. He was deployed to Afghanistan from April 2018 to January 2019 in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, a mission that is part of the U.S. government’s “war on terrorism.”
Bochtler’s death follows a recent string of deaths at the Kaaterskill Creek, which have increased with the site’s internet popularity.
There have been at least eight fatal accidents near or at Kaaterskill Falls since 1992, with six of them having occurred in the past decade, according to the New York Times. The last four occurred when people were posing for pictures, according to the newspaper report.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been implementing new safety features to the tune of $1.25 million over the past four years, including a viewing platform, fencing, warning signs, railings and a bridge upstream from Kaaterskill Falls.
But in some cases, the incidents are caused by hikers and recreationists who go off the trails.
An 18-year-old hiker fell several feet on July 6, 2018, after veering off the trail, sustaining injuries to his left side. DEC forest ranger Rob Dawson said at the time that the area the teen fell from is “very dangerous for the public. I don’t even go in that area.” He said the incident “could have been a lot worse.”
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