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Somerville climber tumbles to his death when rock severs his rope in N.H.

A group gathered at Franconia Notch State Park to find and recover the body of Benjamin Kessel.
A group gathered at Franconia Notch State Park to find and recover the body of Benjamin Kessel.N.H. Fish and Game

A 34-year-old Somerville man died Sunday after “a rock the size of a refrigerator” severed his climbing rope and knocked him about 150 feet off Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire, authorities said.

In a statement, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department identified the victim as Benjamin Kessel. He was with a climbing partner at the time of the accident, and that person was uninjured and called 911, officials said.

That call was one of several from climbers on the Moby Grape route around 4 p.m. Sunday, New Hampshire Fish and Game said. The climbers said Kessel had fallen after a large rock became dislodged, slid along the face of the cliff, and severed his rope.

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A search commenced, and climbers rappelling down the cliff located Kessel’s body around 5:30 p.m., according to the statement.

With darkness setting, the recovery effort was suspended until daylight the next day, the statement said.

Kessel’s body was removed Monday morning.


The state released no further information.

His family said about 30 people took part in the rescue and recovery effort.

“The family is immensely grateful to them," said Beverly Rich, an aunt by marriage, “for going through what they had to do, to see whether he had survived and then to recover his body.”

Her husband, Martin Kessel, said his nephew was “an avid rock climber” who visited “just about every country," in the world, traveling to Europe, India, Southeast Asia, Peru, and Patagonia. He often climbed with his brother, who lives in Amherst. He also enjoyed leisurely hikes with his family, Kessel said.

“He was obviously running circles around us in the outdoors field, but when he was with his uncles and his aunts and his mother . . . .he would always be very happy to stay back with us, not run ahead, and be very patient,” said Kessel, 71, of Natick. “Just loved to be with us and have the experience together.”

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Ben Kessel graduated from Natick High School in 2004 and went to college at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., according to his family. He completed a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford University in 2011, a university spokesman said.

He had worked since December 2017 as a control systems engineer at Ivenix Inc. in North Andover. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.

“He was a tech wiz for both the family and, I’m sure, for his work,” said Rich. “Very, very skilled.”

Ben Kessel traveled alone but met climbing partners through websites for climbers — “because it’s safer” than climbing solo, Rich said.

“He was very meticulous about his safety,” said Rich, 68. “He had the best equipment, and he was always very, very careful. Unfortunately, there’s nothing he could have done to prevent what happened.”



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.