Questions remain in death of North Huntingdon teen in fall at YMCA camp
Family and friends are mourning the death of a North Huntingdon teen while questions remained about his death Monday after a fall from a remote Somerset County rock outcrop.
Nathan Kanczes, 15, fell more than 40 feet while attending a teen wilderness camp at YMCA Deer Valley Camp in Fort Hill.
“They told me he had his rappelling ropes on, fell and died,” Bill Kanczes, Nathan’s father, told the Tribune-Review.
He was told few other details about his son’s death, Bill Kanczes said, but state police are investigating.
Authorities didn’t release details of that investigation Tuesday.
“Nathan was a good kid. He took care of everyone,” his father said.
He described his son as a “camp guy.”
Nathan was looking forward to becoming a counselor-in-training at Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer in Beaver County next year, according to his obituary.
It was through that camp, which is under the auspices of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, that Nathan was involved in the teen wilderness program at YMCA Deer Valley Camp. The 740-acre property is owned by the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. It is located between Meyersdale and Salisbury near Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania.
The YMCA released few details about what happened or what campers were doing before Nathan’s fall, adding they are working with authorities to investigate the accident and are reviewing safety protocols of the Teen Wilderness Camp.
“We are devastated by this tragic loss and our hearts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh said in a statement.
Nathan fell on Forbes State Forest property at a rock outcropping known as Cove Rocks, according to Somerset County 911.
Authorities responded to what was described as a “long fall from rocks” at 12:22 p.m. Monday. Nathan was flown to Conemaugh Meyersdale Medical Center, where he died.
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller could not be reached for comment.
The Cove Rocks outcropping is in a remote area near Mt. Davis. Nathan is believed to have fallen between 40 and 60 feet, according to Don Stiffler, assistant forester for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Stiffler has worked at Forbes State Forest since 1993. This is the first accident he knows of at Cove Rocks, he said.
Stiffler wasn’t at the scene of the fall, but said the group that was there was using climbing ropes at the outcropping.
“Our primary concern is for the child’s family and the emotional well-being and safety of our campers and staff,” the YMCA said in its statement. “We are committed to providing them grief counseling for as long as necessary and working collectively to nurture and support them during this time of profound sadness.”
Wilderness Camp was canceled for the remainder of the week and counseling is available for campers and staff. Parents of the other campers were contacted and provided details about how to pick up their children, the YMCA said.
Nathan was an honor student at Norwin High School, where he also played baritone with the marching band and was a member of the Norwin Ski Club.
“Something that’s really important around here is family and this is kind of a shock to wake up today and find out that a kid I just marched with, won a regional with, did great things with, is gone. So, for us, every student here and staff member is pretty upset about it,” said Nieko Disso, 18, who is a recent Norwin grad. He currently serves on the band’s staff.
Maria Ditoppa, 16, an upcoming junior who plays trumpet in the band described Kanczes a good kid who pushed himself in school.
“I’d see him at practice all the time and he’d always have a smile on his face,” she said. “He would always be on the field, he would never complain about practice. He would always stick through the whole thing and never complain.”
Ditoppa’s mom, Marti, added, “As a mother, I just can’t imagine sending my kid to a camp that was a kid camp and have him not come home. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Kanczes also enjoyed tubing and riding quads, according to a post on the Norwin Band Aides band parents’ Facebook account, which recalled Kanczes as “an enthusiastic person” who “made everyone smile.”
“The Norwin School District extends its deepest condolences regarding the death of high school student Nathan Kanczes, who was set to begin his sophomore year,” Norwin Superintendent Jeff Taylor said in a statement. “The district is committed to supporting Nathan’s family and friends during this time of profound sadness.”
Grief counseling will be available for Norwin students over the next week. It can be scheduled by contacting the high school guidance office at 724-861-3002.
The Norwin Band staff posted on social media that it is “ready to help and support all of our students during this difficult time.”