WEST HAVEN, Weber County — An LDS missionary from Utah fell from a cliff and died Monday afternoon while sightseeing with other missionaries in Australia.
Elder Gavin Paul Zimmerman, 19, of West Haven, fell while whale watching on his missionary preparation day from a platform where another man fell and died a month ago, according to local police and media reports. Zimmerman had served for a nearly a year in the Australia Sydney Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Zimmerman's parents, Raymond and Jeanette Zimmerman, expressed their faith in a statement through the church.
"We are so grateful for our Father in Heaven’s plan of salvation," they said. "We know that we will be with (Gavin) again one day. Our family will miss him greatly until we meet again."
Zimmerman and other missionaries made their way down the rocks of a cliff to a popular whale-watching platform on Cape Solander in Kurnell, a Sydney suburb. News media said whales pass within about 200 yards of the spot as they migrate.
The Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service lists Cape Solander as one of Sydney's best whale-watching spots, with humpback whales plentiful in June and July as they migrate to warmer waters, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"At this stage it appears to be a misadventure; he has slipped and fallen over the edge and unfortunately died," New South Wales Police Chief Inspector Chris Hill told the Herald.
Another man died a month ago after a fall from a cliff in the same area, the paper reported.
Australia Sydney Mission President Scott Runia, a former BYU basketball player from Provo who began his service this month, called Ogden West Stake President David Hales early Monday with the difficult news.
"The mission president's heart was just broken," President Hales said.
He immediately went to the Zimmerman home in West Haven to inform the family.
"He was such a wonderful kid," President Hales said. "He was a youth leader at our Camp Helaman just before his mission and was the kind of kid who was always the first to show up and the last to leave, the happiest, hardest-working young man. He was a bright light. The kids loved him and wanted to be around him."
Camp Helaman is a church boys camp named for a Book of Mormon prophet.
"The thing that made him so special was his willingness," President Hales said. "I know that defined him in the mission field as well."
Zimmerman grew up in Roy and West Haven, where he attended Fremont High School. President Hales said he played cornerback and wide receiver on the football team and ran the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100-meter relay on the track team. Highlight videos of his football career are available on MaxPreps.com.
Zimmerman began his mission on Aug. 16, 2017, and served in several leadership positions in the mission field.
Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff expressed deep sadness at Zimmerman's passing.
"Our sincerest condolences and prayers are with Elder Zimmerman's family and loved ones as they remember his life and mourn his passing," he said. "We pray they will feel the love of our Heavenly Father at this tragic time."
Zimmerman's parents said in their statement that they were experiencing deep sorrow and heavy hearts.
"He was a great example to us all," they said about their son, "and he loved his mission very much. He enjoyed teaching people and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. He loved the Savior Jesus Christ and his family, and we loved him. Gavin was a bright light in our lives!"
President Hales said the family is doing "pretty well under the circumstances. They are faithful, they are a close, tight-knit family. They know that's what Gavin would want them to do. They are strong members of our community.
"We love this family. Our hearts go out to them. Pray for them. They are a powerful, gentle group of people and we will love them with everything we have."