Founder of Wildlife Research Institute died in cliff fall, authorities say

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SAN DIEGO — Authorities Friday publicly identified a 75-year-old wildlife biologist who fell to his death from a cliff in Bandy Canyon.

John Bittner of Julian was rappelling down the several-hundred-foot rock face off the 16100 block of Highland Valley Road about 3 p.m. Thursday when he plunged part of the way down the precipice and became suspended by his climbing ropes and harness, according to the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

Emergency crews used a sheriff’s helicopter to lower a rescuer down to him, said Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots.

While the aircraft hovered over the cliff, the personnel hoisted the unconscious man aboard, then flew him to a ground ambulance on the grounds of a nearby vineyard, where medics tried in vain to revive him before pronouncing him dead at the scene.

The cause of his death was not immediately disclosed.

At the time of the fatal accident, Bittner, founder of the Ramona-based Wildlife Research Institute, was climbing down the bluff along with a colleague to change batteries in cameras mounted on it, authorities said.

Bittner, an avid wildlife photographer, spent more than 30 years studying the golden eagle population of San Diego County and also had extensive experience monitoring hawks, eagles and owls, according to the nonprofit institute.

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