Disc golfer dies after fall in park

The sport of disc golf is normally one of the safest outdoor activities around. But when you combine it with solo climbing—the sport of rock climbing sans safety equipment—it can get pretty dangerous.

Chico disc golfer Darin Knecht, 26, was fatally injured when he attempted to climb down a 400-foot rock cliff in Upper Bidwell Park to retrieve some lost flying discs on Monday, May 13. When the rock he was holding on to crumbled, he fell, ending up unconscious and barely breathing near the bottom of the ravine.

Knecht, a psychology major who was scheduled to graduate from Chico State University in just a few days, was rescued by a collaboration of local agencies headed up by the Chico Fire Department and transported to Enloe Hospital by helicopter.

According to Fire Department spokeswoman Marie Fickert, Knecht was disc golfing with a friend at the disc golf course near Highway 32 when the two decided to climb down a steep, unmarked trail to get some discs they had seen near the bottom.

“[Knecht] had a handhold on a basalt rock, which is very brittle and breaks very easily,” she said. “He did not freefall, but he did slip down feet first and bumped his head on the way down.”

Knecht’s friend, Caleb Donahoo, saw his friend fall and scrambled back up the trail, where he enlisted another disc golfer, Steve Bouttote, to call for help on a cell phone. After calling 911, both men climbed down to assist Knecht.

Bouttote, speaking the day after the accident, said it was he who first found Knecht, whom he had known for a couple of years through his association with the Chico Disc Golf Club.

“I was just hoping he was OK,” Bouttote said. “There’s always the possibility that he fell down there and landed on softer ground. When I saw him, it pretty much scared the hell out of me.”

Bouttote said he knew the way down because he himself had used a nearby “deer trail” to retrieve lost discs in the past. But after one close call a while back, he decided the discs were no longer worth the danger.

“If I throw a disc over, I say, ‘Bye-bye,'” he said. “I’ve done what [Knecht] was doing before and had rocks give out on me. That’s when I said forget it.”

Bouttote said the disc golf course—actually two courses, one long and one short—is used by 150-200 people per day. The sport has been gaining in popularity for years, he added, noting that Chico boasts at least two professional players. The course is safe, he continued, as long as people stay aware of their surroundings and use common sense.

“The course is far enough away from the edge that you’re not climbing on the rocks,” he said. “Darin and Caleb, they knew what the risks were. They were just being adventurous.”

No fewer than nine different entities responded to the 911 call, and though they were on the scene within a few minutes, it took about an hour and a half to complete the rescue because Knecht had fallen to place where he couldn’t be seen from the top of the cliff.

A Butte County Sheriff’s Department helicopter pilot helped spot Knecht and then brought a Fire Department rescue specialist down to the ledge where Knecht was being watched over by Donahoo and Bouttote. Knecht was then brought up the cliff by rope and rushed to a waiting helicopter for transport to Enloe.

He was pronounced dead the next day.