Richard Jacobson, a 21-year-old hiker from Arizona, was high up in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix when he walked toward a cliff at night to take a selfie against the sparkling city lights.
But with his back facing the cliff’s edge, Jacobson slipped and plunged 700 feet, authorities told local news outlets.
On Monday at around 12:45 a.m., the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office received a call from Jacobson’s friend who had been hiking with him, Sgt. Doug Peoble told KPHO. A helicopter was used to recover Jacobson’s body, according to KNXV.
Peoble told KSAZ that an investigation found no signs of drug use or foul play, adding that “it was just a very tragic accident.”
Researchers have warned that selfie-related deaths have become “a major public health problem.” According to a study published in October in the Journal of Travel Medicine, 379 people died while taking selfies from January 2008 to July 2021. Deaths have occurred after people have tried to snap photos near dangerous animals, in front of waterfalls and while wielding dangerous weapons.
“It is a growing problem that, because of the dimensions it has taken on, can now be considered a public health issue,” Manuel Linares, a lead author of the study, told El País, a Spanish newspaper, in October.
The average age of the people who died was 24, with the largest group under the age of 19. The most deaths, 100, occurred in India, while 39 people died in the United States and 33 died in Russia.
Falls from high places were the primary cause of death, claiming 216 people. Another 123 deaths were transportation-related, the study found. Others died by drowning or injury from weapons, electricity or animals.
“What worries me the most is that it is a preventable cause of death,” Agam Bansal, who led a previous study on selfie deaths, told The Washington Post in 2018.
“If you’re just standing, simply taking it with a celebrity or something, that’s not harmful,” he added. “But if that selfie is accompanied with risky behavior then that’s what makes the selfies dangerous.”
Jacobson’s father wrote in a Facebook post that his son’s funeral will be held Saturday in Mesa, Ariz. “Richie will truly be missed, but ALWAYS in our hearts,” he wrote.
Paul Blanco, one of Jacobson’s friends, told KNXV that he liked to camp, bike and go fishing with Jacobson. Blanco said he had hiked Flatiron, a formation within the Superstition Mountains, twice with Jacobson. He said Jacobson was an experienced hiker and “definitely knew the outdoors.”
Andrew Thomas, another one of Jacobson’s friends, told KPHO that Jacobson was kind and had a good sense of humor. He was an outdoorsman, he added.
“I guess he did die doing what he loved to,” Thomas said, “just in a tragic way.”