The adventure photographer and filmmaker Cody Tuttle died in a paragliding accident in the Southern Sierra Nevada on Wednesday, August 14. At approximately 1:20 P.M., an Inyo County Sheriff’s dispatch received notification of Tuttle’s emergency InReach activation north of Striped Mountain and south of Taboose Pass, near Independence, California.
A Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks helicopter located Tuttle at 12,600 feet and confirmed that he was dead, but because of the altitude and afternoon heat, rescuers were unable to complete the recovery until the following morning, with the assistance of California Highway Patrol Coastal Division Air Operations. He was flown to Bishop Airport, where custody was transferred to the Inyo County coroner.
Tuttle was with three other paraglider pilots who had launched from Walt’s Point, near Horseshoe Meadows, outside the town of Lone Pine. The others landed safely in Bishop. It is unclear if he activated the emergency device while flying or if it happened on impact, and at this time, there is no conclusive information on what went wrong.
After a long flight the day prior, Tuttle was looking forward to what he considered good flying conditions, which were lining up just right for an attempt at breaking the California distance record that day. Owens Valley is notorious for its turbulent thermals, high winds, and potential for long flights. The region is considered extreme for paragliding, and Tuttle described it as a “good training ground for Himalayan adventures” in a 2018 article that he wrote for Cross Country magazine.
In the past four years, Tuttle has established himself as a fixture in the small yet elite alpine and paragliding hike-to-fly scene. As an athlete and a photographer, he was sponsored by brands including Big Agnes, F-stop, and Lowa.
In July, Tuttle went to the Brooks Range on a self-supported paragliding and camping trip, hiking and flying across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Jeff Shapiro. Others have flown in the Brooks Range previously, but their was the first expedition with the goal of crossing a major section of the mountains via a series of flights. They set out for 18 days to experience the large swath of wilderness, which is currently in danger of being opened for drilling.
“The world is quickly changing and these moments are fleeting,” Tuttle wrote upon his return in a blog post. “The time is now to go have an experience like this, to see the world, and fight to protect these wild places. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is worth fighting for.”
Friends described Tuttle as humble and kind. “He was a solid, good guy,” close friend Josh Dibble said. “I don’t know many people who love [their] wife as much as he did.”
In 2015, Tuttle, who was rapidly growing his action-sports photography career, went paragliding for the first time on assignment to film Dave Turner, a record-breaking California pilot who also lived in the Eastern Sierra Nevada.
“Out here on the east side, all the flying sites are wild and free. There’s no membership, no insurance, no license, no certifications— everything is cowboy out here,” Turner told me in 2015. “The Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra are world-famous for turbulence, extreme flying conditions, extremely high altitudes achieved with the paraglider, and strong winds.”
Later that year, Tuttle was on an American expedition of Annapurna in the Himalayas when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal. The climbing team retreated from its base camp and joined the relief effort, trekking over high passes in the mountainous regions of Gorkha and Manasalu to reach remote villages cut off by the landslides.
“This changed the way I looked at the world,” Tuttle recently said in a Lowa ambassador film. “I began to switch my focus from documenting action sports to sharing stories of humanity and exploring how I could use my influence as a photographer to tell the stories of the voiceless.”
He returned to Nepal the following year to continue working for relief efforts and also began a short film documenting one low-caste family in the isolated Himalayan village of Samagau and the ongoing struggle of the Nepali people to survive.
It was during these return trips for some of his documentaries that Tuttle began to dream about flying from Himalayan mountaintops. He mentioned the idea to a few friends and started training.
He published this photo essay about his Himalayan travels on Outside Online.
In 2017, Matt Segal, a flying partner of Tuttle’s, had a near fatal accident near Bishop while training for a Himalayan expedition. In writing about that accident for Cross Country, Tuttle reflected on the dangers of the sport:
So, the question I have been asking myself is: how do we keep our ambition in check, yet still push the boundaries of the sport? How do we remain true to those child-like feelings, which made us take those first flights before any knowledge of what was possible? How do we keep emotion out of the decision-making process while participating in a sport that at its core delivers such powerful emotional experience? As a pilot, I face this as my greatest work in progress.
Tuttle, originally of Port Huron, Michigan, was 32 years old. He is survived by his wife, Cherise Tuttle, parents Tod and Kathy Tuttle, and sister Denise Tuttle.