A 20-year-old aspiring West Point cadet fell to his death in an accident at a popular cliff-diving spot in upstate New York on Saturday, authorities said.
The U.S. Military Academy said in a release to TODAY that cadet candidate Benjamin Bochtler died Saturday in Hunter, N.Y., from injuries sustained in the fall.
In a statement that didn't identify Bochtler by name, New York State Police said a cadet candidate was hanging onto a rock ledge at a popular cliff diving spot called Fawn's Leap when a portion of the rock broke and caused him to fall at around 11 a.m. Saturday. Life-saving measures at the scene were unsuccessful.
"Cadet Candidate Bochtler had an incredible smile and infectious positive attitude. He was everyone’s friend. 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," Col. Joshua Higgins, Commandant of the United States Preparatory School, said in the release. "His warm personality and that big smile made a lasting impact on everyone at USMAPS. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, and friends."
The 20-year-old from Bellevue, Nebraska, was enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School in West Point, which is for civilians and soldiers working to ultimately become Army officers.
Bochtler entered the school in July after a three-year stint in the Army that included a deployment to Afghanistan from April 2018 until January 2019, West Point said. He also played on the school's lacrosse team.
The cliff-diving area is located in Kaaterskill Creek near Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills, which has become a popular spot for Instagram photos and videos. There have been at least eight fatal accidents at the falls since 1992, according to The New York Times.
Several of Bochtler's friends paid tribute to him after learning of his death.
"Benjamin Bochtler, you were more than a friend to me, much more like a brother,'' Dylan Reese Padgett wrote on Facebook. "From showing me around the FOB in Afghanistan to cleaning air vents in our barracks room with gas masks on, you always brought light to any situation. You were always smiling and joking and I know you wouldn’t want us to weigh too heavy on this. God rest your soul and Until Valhalla, brother!"
"So much to say about you Benjamin Bochtler, all the memories, all the long conversations inside the box down range and all the funny moments,'' another friend, Edwin Lugo, wrote.
I'm definitely gonna miss you, but I know you looking down at us right now with a big smile on your face because you don’t want us to be sad. You were family to me and I’ll love you and remember for ever, Rest easy brother and I’ll see you in the other side."
"Found out the horrible news today that one of the good ones has been taken Benjamin Bochtler,'' Greg Northrup wrote. "I will miss you little brother you were kind, collected and always wanted to make others smile here is a picture of us headed to Afghanistan together he is the one hiding in the small window of the bunker. You will never be forgotten."