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Park City teen dies in Austria on senior trip

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Christopher Yeates

Christopher Yeates

A recent graduate of Park City High School fell to his death Monday while hiking with a tour group in the mountains of Vienna, Austria.

Park City School District Superintendent Ray Timothy said 18-year-old Christopher Yeates "was a fine, young kid."

"He had just graduated and he really had a lot going for him," Timothy said. The district had received multiple calls from parents of travelers on the same trip in Austria, reporting what had happened before hearing official word.

"We found out from them before the embassy had contacted the parents," he said, adding that the news had "obviously shaken" Yeates' family.

"It's news you never want to hear," Timothy said.

Yeates had opted into the trip to Europe with several of his classmates. The voyage had become a popular destination for many graduates of Park City High, but the trip was not affiliated with the district or the high school.

The group of about 80 participants, some from Park City High, was led by John Krenkel, a history teacher and academic decathlon coach who recently retired from teaching after 25 years at the Park City school. The 39-day journey began 15 days ago in Brussels, Belgium, and is scheduled to convene in Venice tomorrow, hitting cities in Italy along the way, ending in Paris in a couple of weeks.

"It's a very esoteric tour, areas that are off the beaten path," said Michael Forhan, director of corporate development for Passports, Inc., which sponsored the trip. He said the various spots along the tour are reflections of Krenkel's experience with traveling Europe.

Krenkel has led multiple student tours to Europe and had hiked the popular Grossglockner, the highest point in Austria, twice before Monday's adventure. Forhan said the group was in the process of making the six-to-seven-hour hike down the mountain after the "serene experience" of a grand, panoramic view.

In his 38 years of travel group experience, Forhan said there has never been such an accident and he "can't imagine" how all involved must feel to be a part of it.

"One's greatest fear is something happening to your children," he said, adding that the company will provide "whatever they need" to Yeates' family. They are scheduled to go to Austria in the next few days. A few of the trip participants will also be returning home early.

Passports, Inc. has been leading the educational tours through Europe and other countries for years and Timothy said students at Park City High have been interested in and have enjoyed the the trip for more than 17 years.

"There is a huge number of students who love to go and in the past, it has been a very successful experience for them," he said. "It's just sad to see something like this happen."

This particular voyage to Austria has been accident-free in previous years, at least involving any Utah high school students and recent graduates.

The United States Embassy in Vienna reported that Yeates slipped and fell more than 60 feet to a stream bed beneath the trail. Timothy said other students have said the trail they were hiking in Heiligenblut, of the Alpine republic's province of Carinthia, was wet and slippery and Yeates had simply lost his footing. It is unknown exactly how Yeates died, but authorities in Vienna believe he hit his head on a rock during the fall and succumbed to the head injury.

Yeates' family could not be reached by phone for comment. His mother, Kelly Yeates, is also an English teacher at Park City High School.

"It's been a rough year for us with former students," Timothy said. Earlier this year, another Park City High graduate, Connie Blount, 18, was killed in a hit-and-run accident while she walking across a street near the University of Kentucky.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com