Despite wearing gear designed to improve footing in snow and ice, a New Hampshire man fell hundreds of feet to his death Saturday from Mount Willard in the White Mountains, tumbling over a cliff so quickly that his wife standing beside him didn’t see his fall, an official said Monday.
Joseph V. Eggleston, who lived in Randolph, N.H., was 53, officials said.
He and his wife, both wearing Microspikes, were frequent hikers in the White Mountains. They had hiked Mount Willard on a popular mile-and-a-half trail accessible from the AMC’s Highland Lodge Center, said New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Lieutenant Bradley R. Morse, an agency spokesman.
“For what they were doing, they were very well prepared. They were proven hikers,’’ Morse said. “They knew what they were getting into.”
Eggleston was known as “Eggy” by his colleagues at Mount Washington Cog Railway, where he was often operating the train from the front as it climbed the slopes of the highest point in the Northeast.
“Eggy, living gracefully with profound hearing loss since childhood, once said to us, ‘Where else could a deaf man fulfill his dream of running a steam locomotive?’ His passion for The Cog was evident to anyone who ever shared a moment, or a shift, with him,” the railway wrote in a Facebook post.
Wayne Presby, owner of the Cog Railway for more than 40 years, said Eggleston began working for the railway in the early 1990s and shared his love and deep knowledge about the trains with their guests, many of whom often had never seen a steam locomotive before.
“Eggy was really one of a kind,” Presby said in a telephone interview Monday night. “He just loved running the steam locomotive and made that his lifelong pursuit. He was always engaging with customers, especially children. He had one of those magnetic smiles about him.”
In a post on the business’s Facebook page, train master Andy Villaine wrote, “His home will always be in these mountains he loved. ... That whistle will forever echo off these peaks for you.”
Eggleston’s wife, Kelly, also works at the railway as a brakeman, Presby said.
The couple arrived at the bald, rocky summit, on the edge of an 800-foot cliff, around 10:20 a.m. Saturday, Morse said.
“There was ice here and there,’' he said. “It wasn’t totally covered with ice.”
At the top, Eggleston stepped onto a boulder about 2 feet high, which many hikers use to get a better view of Crawford Notch, Morse said. He was about 2 to 3 feet from the edge of the cliff, Morse said
Kelly, 37, was standing beside him and at that moment took a sip from her water bottle, he said.
“He was just standing on a rock — a rock that lots of people stand on — taking photos of Crawford Notch,” he said. “She just heard him yell and she looked over and he was falling. She was right there, but she didn’t see him slip or fall.”
Presby, the owner of the Cog Railroad, said the news of Eggleston’s death came as a “complete and absolute shock to us all.”
“Eggy was a very experienced climber and loved to take photographs,” Presby said. “It’s a very freak accident, and obviously our condolences to his wife, Kelly. To have been right there when it happened had to have been devastating.”
Kelly called 911 for help and members of the Mountain Rescue Service rappelled down the cliff to find Eggleston. His body was found about 300 feet below the summit.
Morse said rescuers recovered a heavily damaged camera and case in separate locations but did not find his cellphone. Morse said it was not known whether he was using the camera or the cellphone to take pictures.
Morse said it was the first death at Mount Willard in the 18 years he has been working for the Fish and Game Department.
“It’s surprising, but accidents happen,” Morse said. “One wrong step on the top like that — we don’t know if he tripped or he slipped — and these things happen.”
Hiking in New Hampshire’s mountains is challenging at any time of the year, Morse said, noting that snow is not uncommon at higher elevations during the height of summer.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway runs diesel and steam trains and is open year-round, but the steam trains run only in the summer and make two to three trips to the summit each day, Presby said.
He said Eggleston was the “face of our steam railroading operation.”
“He was a fantastic guy to work with,” Presby said. “He loved what he did and was fascinated by the steam locomotives up there.”
Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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