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Two die in separate BASE jumping mishaps

MOAB — Authorities in Grand County released the name Monday of a BASE jumper who died Friday in Mineral Canyon just as Zion National Park officials confirmed the second BASE jumping death in the park since February.

Kevin Morroun, 35, of Moab, died about 7 p.m. Friday after he jumped from an area known as "The Sweet Spot," about one mile east of the Mineral Bottom boat launch, according to the Grand County Sheriff's Office.

"He had the biggest heart in the world. It was made of gold for sure," said Jimmy Peterson, who described Morroun as his "brother from another mother."

Peterson wasn't with Morruon for Friday night's jump but said those who were there told him his friend was attempting a double back flip off a cliff and didn't pull the ripcord in time for his chute to open fully. That lines up with what investigators said they found.

"In the course of doing his aerial acrobatics, I don't think he gave himself enough time to get the canopy fully deployed," said Grand County Sheriff's Lt. Kim Neal, noting that Morroun was an experienced skydiver who worked as an instructor for Skydive Moab.

"He'd done thousands of skydives," the lieutenant said. "His friends told us he'd done about 20 BASE jumps."

Two friends who were with Morroun notified the sheriff's office about the accident as soon as they were able to get cellphone service Friday night. Search teams immediately tried to reach his body, but called off the recovery effort due to the terrain and the risks posed to rescue teams, Neal said.

The operation resumed Saturday and crews were able to recover Morroun's body after setting up several belays down "an extreme talus slope," the lieutenant said. The distance from the top of the cliff to the spot where Morroun's body was found was estimated at 400 feet.

Morroun's death was the first of two over the weekend for BASE jumpers in Utah.

Zion National Park was notified about an overdue BASE jumper near West Temple around 6:40 a.m. Sunday, according to park spokeswoman Aly Baltrus. A helicopter crew from Grand Canyon National Park was called in and found a body — believed to be the missing BASE jumper — just before 3 p.m..

"The body is located in difficult terrain and in an area where crosswinds limit the use of a helicopter," Baltrus said in a statement released Monday. "Search and rescue crews will assess options for recovery today. The team hopes to be able to recover the body over the (next) several days."

Baltrus said the person's name would not be released until the body was recovered, but several magazines that cover outdoor sports identified the BASE jumper Monday as California native Sean "Stanley" Leary.

A world-class rock climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot, Leary's list of accomplishments include multiple speed climbing records in Yosemite National Park, first ascent climbs in North America and South America, and the first wingsuit descents from one peak in Argentina and another in Canada.

Leary, 38, also worked as a rigger and a stuntman for TV and film, according to his website. He leaves behind a wife who is pregnant with the couple's first child, Climbing magazine reported.

Leary's death, which remains under investigation, is the second in the history of Zion National Park. The first death happened a little more than a month ago.

On Feb. 8, Amber Marie Bellows and her husband, Clayton Butler, were attempting a 2,000-foot jump off Mount Kinesava when Bellows' parachute failed to open. Butler jumped after his wife, but was unable to reach her.

Bellows, 28, and Butler, 29, had been married for two weeks at the time of the mishap. Both were experienced BASE jumpers.

BASE jumping is illegal in Zion National Park, however, and Butler was issued a federal misdemeanor citation that carried a potential fine of up to $5,000 or six months in jail. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah dismissed the citation a few days after Bellows' death.

"To be sure, BASE jumping in Zion National Park is unlawful, and this tragic BASE jumping accident underscores some of the reasoning behind the regulations which prohibit such conduct in Zion National Park," said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "Nevertheless, the interests of justice do not warrant prosecution of Mr. Butler."

Despite BASE jumping accidents that have killed five of his friends in the past 12 months, Morroun's friend Peterson said he will continue to pursue the sport he loves.

"None of the friends I've lost would want me to stop," he said. "It's a personal choice for everyone."


Twitter: GeoffLiesik